To be known.

It’s been almost 2-weeks since I received the phone call.

The phone call that no one expects, but secretly dreads. The phone call that changes the course of your day, your week, your year. The phone call that leaves you in shock and denial and anger all rolled up into one.

It was a wonderful Friday afternoon spent with my best friend and her daughter. We had been giggling and shopping and enjoying the things that girls (little and not so little) enjoy. We were just sitting down to dinner when I got the previous mentioned phone call.

It was during that phone call that I was told a friend had died unexpectedly. The same friend I had shared dinner with just 3 nights previous. The same friend who had remarked on how he liked my dress that evening and I jokingly retorted that he liked my legs in the dress. The phone call was brief, but packed with emotions and questions like those types of phone calls usually are. The next few days, were full of friends and love and comforting words. We lived in a weird state of flux from tear drenched faces to mouths full of laughter. Each moment a different memory and yet a continual phrase repeated, “We miss him”. Our world seemingly stunned by grief and yet everyone else’s unaffected.

A few short days ago, we stood in a not so short line to offer our condolences to the family of our friend. I’d never met his family before since it had only been a a few months since he entered our lives. His entrance was swift, but cemented instantly. He was easily lovable and a true joy to have around. And he thought I was funny– that’s usually all it takes for me to call someone a friend. Standing before his mom, I struggled to get the words out as I shared how much we loved her son. She wrapped her arms around me and in the midst of her kind words she said something simple and meaningful.

“He told us so much about you!”

Sitting on the hard, wooden pews waiting for the memorial to begin I wondered why that small statement made such an impact on my heart. Then, I realized, it was because I had been KNOWN. He claimed me as a friend.

One of the greatest feelings in the world is to be known. To be claimed. To be recognized.

It’s a wonderful feeling to know your friends and family love you, but how much more intoxicating is the fact that the very Creator of the universe knows me. I am, in a very literal sense, His dream come true. I was His idea. His creation. His handiwork. He not only knows all about me– the fact that I enjoy Starbucks white chocolate mochas, hugs, sarcasm, scarf wearing weather and Jane Austen books, but He knows me intimately. He knows every dream I’ve longed for. Every whispered prayer. Every bitter restrained comment. He’s been there for every heart break. He’s captured everyone of my tears.

He knows me.

There’s nothing more fulfilling than that. To you, I may just be another girl lost in the crowd, but to Him I’m a special treasure and a target of His love.

The person who loves God is the one God knows and cares for. (1 Cor. 8:3)

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I was wrong.

It’s true. Mark the date and time because this type of admission is something to be noted!

Last I checked, I am a lot like you and the rest of humanity. I don’t like hearing I’m wrong or admitting it. I’d rather defer to how I was forced into the action because of someone else, thereby excusing my stupidity. Or how it wasn’t really wrong, but just a minor infraction. It’s “no big deal”.

All joking aside, I’m a perfectionist. If I commit to a task, a project, a friendship, a position– I’m doing it full force. Nothing is done half-assed. At an early age, I concluded that you needed to earn love and you earned it by doing things better than everyone else. I very quickly learned the things I excelled at and proceeded to highlight those things for everyone to see in the CHANCE that I might be found lovable. I wouldn’t attempt anything I couldn’t do well for fear that I’d look like an idiot. (Except for that one time I took Latin in high school to impress a guy. Ya. I was that girl.) This thinking is one of the reasons why I’ve shied away from starting and maintaining a blog– there’s this fear that if it isn’t perfect and others are doing it better than me then maybe I shouldn’t even attempt it.

One day away from completing an almost perfect week at camp, I did something dumb. I didn’t kill anyone or re-mix a Miley Cyrus song at muster, which in my estimation would have been inexcusable on all counts. In the grand scheme of things, I’m sure some people would shrug it all off and say “Huh? Whatever.” They’d move on without a second thought, but I spent the next 12 hours thinking about what I did. Part of me resigned to the fact that I’m some kind of screw-up and another part of me that just wanting to forget it ever happened.

Luckily for me, I’ve got friends who love me and because they love me they bring correction into my life.

WHAT?!?!

Am I for real? Did I just admit that it was a good thing to get told I was WRONG. Well, this is 4-weeks fast forward from the event. Let’s go back to the day after my “slip-up”.

I walked into a staff meeting where a friend who witnessed everything the day before was waiting to talk with me. He quietly took me aside and let me know he had been praying about what happened and felt like he needed to tell me some things. He graciously explained his heart (more so God’s heart), and honestly pointed out an area in me that needed some work.

No one likes that. Get real for a second. We’ve already established that most people hate being told their wrong.

And I’ll be honest, I walked away from that conversation devastated. I’m sure it was partially due to the fact that at the time I had been sleeping on a mattress 3-inches thick for the past 5 nights. Or more likely because that correction drew out some insecurity in my heart. If I wasn’t perfect, then I wasn’t worthy of love.

As much as it hurt, I couldn’t shake the fact that I knew my friend cared about me. He wasn’t out to make me feel like crap, but he wanted to call me UP to a higher standard. I tucked away what he said and when I had the opportunity I spent some time discussing it with a trusted mentor in my life. And through that I learned even more Truth:

For one, just because you screw-up, doesn’t mean you ARE a screw-up.

We need people in our lives who love us enough to point out areas that need to be removed, purged, or sanded off. Letting your friend walk around with their zipper down may save you from an awkward conversation, but it leaves your friend exposed and open for future humiliation.

Just because you do something wrong, doesn’t mean you need to carry shame. You do something wrong, you ask for forgiveness, repent and move on. Live and learn, folks.

We’ve become spineless as a culture. We are busy proving how right we are and how wrong everyone else is. We are slow to seek for forgiveness, but prefer to state our “good intentions” thinking that will smooth things over. If we want to grow and mature in Christ, we’ve got to be discipled. And being discipled means being disciplined.

To clarify, this does not mean EVERYONE gets to speak into your life. BUT you should have people you trust that can (and DO) speak into your life when you need it. Allow people into your life who will sand off those rough edges. If not, you will very quickly become stagnant in your ways. I promise you, it may hurt at times, but its worth it.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend,
But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful. (Prov. 27:6)

The heart of the matter & crap….

A few nights ago, I sat across the table from a friend who was broken.  He didn’t say much at first. There were some awkward silences. Some far off gazes, but I could tell something was weighing him down. Like any good friend, I made awful small talk. I directed his attention to a commercial on the big screen. I poked fun at myself. I discussed chicken wing sauce options.

Nothing.

I’m not good at surface conversation. I have no real use for it. Correction: there is NO real use for it. I’ve run out of things to say about the weather, or the Yankees, Miley Cyrus and/or twerking. I’d rather know what’s on your mind or in your heart. It’s there where intimacy happens, community flourishes and fellowship becomes a reality.

So, I threw out the small talk and started asking some harder to answer questions. In return, I got a piece of my friend’s broken heart as he shared some recent disappointments. He let some people down– people he loved and who loved him in return. His posture, his tone, his lament were poignant as he recalled his actions. How could he rebuild their trust? Could he make it up to them?

Maybe it was better to be alone than to hurt anyone ever again, he wondered.

“It’ll happen again. I’ll hurt them again.”

And he’s right. He will. I will. You will. As much as we love our friends and family, there will come a time when we will hurt them. Our words, choices or actions unintentionally causing them pain. So we think the answer is to shelter them from us. Or guard our hearts from them. Either way, it’s a subtle division in attempt to hoard the shards left of our hearts. We feel tattered and torn so we attempt to self-preserve.

I’ve mulled over C.S. Lewis’ words on this issue: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

More than a broken heart, I fear a hard heart. A heart that is no longer moved to compassion or concern for those around me because caring means letting someone IN.

So, what sage advice did I give my friend? What brilliant words of hope did I offer? None. Instead, I offered my heart and a listening ear. I reassured him that there were people who would love him no matter his mistakes. (As a side rant: Loving someone regardless of their mistakes isn’t excusing or promoting those actions, but letting that person know that those actions don’t determine their identity. More to come on this.)

Sadly, this hasn’t always been my response. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve walked away from friends who made stupid choices instead of loving them through it and I regret it. It was selfish and immature and a faux safeguard. It seemed the RIGHTEOUS thing to do. Bah! As a result, I’ve lost my opportunity to be an influence and source of Light in their life.

Let’s truly love people. Love them when their neck deep in crap. I’m not asking you to love their crap, but love them in the midst of it. Stop being afraid to get dirty and dive in. Live out the words “You’re not alone.” 

Marco! Polo!

God, where are you?

I remember the first time I asked Him that. I was 6 years old, laying in my bed listening to my biological mother and her live in boyfriend argue in the next room over. By this time, I had been able to distinguish the type of argument that would end in silence or in the need for the police to be called. As I strained my ears to listen in on their exchange, I whispered to God, “Where are you?” There didn’t seem to be an answer and the noise next store continued to escalate. Part of me wishing they’d kill each other and let me have some peace. It was at that point, with my heart beating hard against my chest, that I slid out of bed and tip toed out the front door. In the middle of the night, I stood at my neighbors door in my nightgown and asked them to call the police.

This type of thing happened more times than I could remember. The last time being on Christmas Eve, when I was 12. I lived in a constant state of fear, waiting with anxious anticipation for the next fight. As a little girl, I thought up ways to kill myself wondering if that was the only way I’d get some peace. I needed an escape. I needed to be rescued.

And that’s exactly what happened. In the middle of my freshman year in high school, my mom and her new boyfriend were moving out of state. I saw it as my chance to get out and I did. When most teenage girls are deciding what movie to watch with their friends or what boy is the cutest in their class– I was telling my mother I was moving out. The conversation didn’t go “well”. Both her and my grandmother, threw insults and guilt at me in rapid fire motion as I sat at the kitchen table silent and immovable on my decision. By a miracle of God, she relented and within 3 days, I was packed up and moved in with my aunt and uncle 4-hours away from my hometown, but feeling safer and more loved than I ever had before.

I loved going swimming when I was a kid. I’d spend hours in the pool with friends as we made pool “tornadoes” and practiced our belly flopping form. Then, there was of course, the game of Marco Polo. Essentially, Marco Polo is a game of Hide & Seek and Tag kinda rolled into one. One person closes their eyes and yells “Marco!” and waits for the other person to respond with “Polo!”– all of this an attempt to reveal their location to you so you can tag them. With any game, there are ways for each person to cheat. The person with their eyes closed, trying to sneak a peak out of the slivers of their eyelids. The other person, whispering “polo” and going into pool stealth mode doing whatever they can to not make a splash or a ripple in the water. The game usually ends with a quick transition to pool wrestling as one kid gets frustrated at not being able to tag the other. At least, that’s what I always did.

Today, I found myself asking God again, “Where are you?”, as I have time and time again. My eyes closed, my hands grasping just to reach Him. I desperately call out, “God!!” and frantically try to find Him. He seems distant. Quiet. Unreachable.

Looking back on past hurtful experiences I find myself asking with an accusatory tone, “God, Where WERE you? If there is a God, why didn’t you do something? Why were you silent? Why did you let me go through that?” It’s in this place, that many people get discouraged. They find themselves questioning God and His ways and when they realize they’d NEVER be able to figure Him out they decide to give up.

As I’ve gotten older though, I’ve come to the conclusion that I may not be able to understand the ways of God, but I can trust His character. You see I realized, while I’m there yelling at God “Where are you?!?!” He’s calling out, “Right here.” He’s not sadistic, trying to hide Himself from me. He’s there. Very much present.

I’ve often leaned on Isaiah 43:2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” I’ve been in over my head about ready to drown. I’ve felt the heat of the fire on my skin wondering if I’d be consumed. But never once, was I in it alone.

That night, at the age of 6, laying in my bed– He was there. As I tip toed out the front door– He was there. Outside my neighbors house, barefoot and cold– He was there. At the age of 13, being berated and belittled for making a wise choice– He was there. At the age of 22, seeing the man I loved in a casket along with my dreams–He was there. Or today, feeling the pressure of an unexpected financial burden– He is here.

No. This doesn’t really answer any “Why” question. I know that. But for me, having the “Where” question has made the most difference. Wherever you are, whatever you are going through– or have gone through– know you never went through it alone. Never once was your prayer unheard. Your tears unnoticed. He’s there.