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I LOVE WEDDINGS. Fresh flowers, beautiful dresses, decadent desserts, and HUGE smiles.ring bearer Even though receptions are often packed full of food and fun, the ceremonies are always my favorite.

WATCHING the beaming bride walk down the aisle, SEEING her father give his blessing as he gives her away, LISTENING as the minister shares thoughts and scriptures with the couple, FEELING the tender beauty that’s captured in the exchange of vows, CHEERING at the kiss, HEARING them being announced as husband and wife for the very first time.

Yes.

This summer I’ve had the unique privilege of watching my husband, Josh, OFFICIATE a couple of weddings, one of which was this past weekend. His message to the couple has been echoing in my mind and heart the past few days. It’s so good, I thought I’d share a snippet of it here with you…

..A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.

wedding prayerThe couple chose a portion of Ecclesiastes to be read as part of their ceremony, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart” (4:9-12, NASB). They understood that a marriage built on Christ will last the storms of life and the whims of our human hearts. Thus, their marriage was a bond between three, not two: husband, wife, and God. Josh elaborated on this…

First, he shared HOW CULTURE TELLS US to approach relationships:

  • FIND the right person (do your makeup, dress cute, go out, flirt, party, post sexy selfies, be social, etc)
  • FALL in love (be swept away in the euphoria of love’s emotions)
  • set all your hopes and dreams on THEM (live happily ever after as they fulfill your every need & desire)

When you “fall out of love” with that person, they let you down somehow, or all your hopes and dreams are not met in them… just repeat. And then repeat. And repeat again.

Then, he shared A DIFFERENT APPROACH to relationships. It looks like this…

  • BE the right person (as you walk with God, let him continue to shape your character, attitude, actions)
  • WALK in love (a conscious commitment to show love day after day, even when the good feelings aren’t there)
  • set all your hopes and dreams on GOD (release them from the burden of trying to meet all your desires, and leave that to God)

When life gets hard, as it inevitably does, repeat.  When that fight happens… be the right person (communicate clearly, with kindness and respect), wedding dahliaswalk in love (choose to seek unity in facing problems, seek/give forgiveness, refrain from rehashing & talking badly about them with friends), set your hopes on God (keep perspective, God knows what we need, hears ALL our prayers & loves us like crazy). When that break-up happens (in a dating relationship),  you haven’t “wasted your time”. Your future plans haven’t crumbled since your dreams weren’t riding on that person in the first place. When you wake up on a cloudy Monday morning and you’re not feeling the sizzling ecstasy of new love in your marriage, it’s not game over. Be the right person… focus on ways God is challenging you to grow right now, rather than zeroing in on their faults. Walk in love… decide to follow Christ’s example of loving them when they aren’t lovable, when they don’t deserve it. Set your hopes on God… release your spouse from the pressure of being everything you need all of the time, protect your heart from building resentment against them when they inevitably let down your impossible expectations. Embrace God’s incredible love, and ask for his strength… we need both!!

I remember sitting in the shade outside a Pete’s coffee shop with Josh when we were just dating… he drew me a picture on a brown paper napkin… a circle with three focal points, an arrow between each of the three (steps). It was the way he wanted to approach our relationship then, it’s the way we still want to approach our relationship now. : )

 

kisswedding cake 1

 

 

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On August 21st, at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, the most wonderful man asked me to marry him. Of course I said “yes!”. : )

I could write for a VERY long time about Josh… there are so many things I love, appreciate, and respect about him… but as I was sitting in church this past Sunday morning the eretheal world of love had taken a back seat, in my mind, to the very tangible realm of WEDDING PLANNING.

I’m convinced planning the “most important day of your life” is a test of character — one I haven’t always been passing. But I want to be.

Sitting in my church chair, coffee in hand, staring at the actual HONEY BUCKET up on the stage (a demonstration of how replusive God finds our sin), my mind couldn’t let go of the selfishness that so easily gets tangled into the ribbons and bells of planning a wedding. The simple phrase my perfect day says so much, doesn’t it? It just oozes with an “it’s all about ME” mindset. And, when coupled with a longing for a “perfect” day, the infamous Bridezilla emerges.

…Isn’t it ironic that while preparing for the time when we are, supposedly, to look the most beautiful in our lives that the preparation period actually can bring out the very ugliest parts of ourselves?

Entitlement, greed, vanity, pride, selfishness, competitive spirit, envy. How easily I can shift from the beautiful bride to the putrid port-a-potty!!

According to Reuters, in 2012 couples in America spent an average of $27,000 on their wedding — not including the honeymoon. In New York the average climbs to more than $60,000. That’s more than I paid for my brand-new CAR! …People are literally taking out loans to help cover the cost of extravagant celebrations and memorable nupitals. With the divorce rate hovering around 50 percent, it’s a sad reality that some people continue to pay off their weddings after their marriage has dissolved. What is happening?!

I think wedding planning, with its “me” focus, is an incubator for self-centeredness and vanity: “I deserve this… I want to look like that…”

Whether it’s a well-meaning friend asking “well what do you want?” or an advertisement daring me to splurge because “you’re worth it”, it seems that wedding culture continues to bring us back to ourselves. I think that’s exactly the problem: us. There is too much “me” in wedding world — it is poisoning our spirits and eventually unleashing the bridezilla that lurks in the depths of each of us!

So what’s the solution… how do we kill the beast?

Not with bobby pins, safety pins, bleach pens, or wire-edged ribbon. With God. He’s the creator of love and sustainer of life. Only he can kill the selfish bridezilla beast and heal the wounds its inflicted. Thank goodness he loves us and delights in restoring us! More so, when we allow him to clean up our minds and hearts, he brings a radiance that no make-up artist or designer gown can imitate.

Sitting in that chair… staring at that port-a-potty on the stage… I thought about how easily I’ve slipped into putting God on the backburner while I dip into wedding world for awhile.

I skip reading my Bible in order to spend extra time comparing font styles on invitations. I dream about wedding ideas but fall asleep while praying — oh how that betrays what has really captured my mind!! But God is good and full of mercy. I felt like he was whispering to my heart… to return to him and trust that the pieces will all come together in the right time. After all, it is God who breathes life and beauty into us, who mends our relationships, replaces anxiety with peace, and teaches us how to love sacrifically.

We become like those we spend the most time with… is God someone you are spending time with? I want to be.

I would absolutely LOVE to be a beautiful bride, but I also want to be a kind, generous, grateful and content one… not a selfish, greedy, jealous and proud one. Only God can do the kind of work on my mind and heart to make that a possibility:

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/23/us-wedding-costs-idUSBRE82M11O20120323

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I like islands… especially ones nestled in turquoise waters filled with colorful fish and playful dolphins. Ones that are far away from tsunamis, but blossoming with exotic flowers and sprinkled with palm trees. I used to think I would ADORE living the stereo-typical, laid-back island life. You know: lay on the beach, eat pineapple, learn to surf, be tan, swim with dolphins, buy a hammock… and relax with the people I love.

Hank’s friend, “Wilson”

..but it’d be a whole different story to be on the same quintessential island alone. Did you ever watch the movie “Castaway” (2000) with Tom Hanks? I couldn’t bring myself to sit through the entire saga, but I understand Hanks’ character gets so lonely on a beautiful island that he fashions an imaginary friend out of an old volleyball. Not exactly paradise.

John Donne (1572-1631), who was an English clergyman and poet, once said:

No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main…” (Meditation XVII, emph mine).

Life is better when it’s shared. In today’s world it’s easy to live essentially isolated from one another — like islands sprinkled across a vast ocean. Sure, we are constantly physically around people…  but do we really know them?

I think America is detached and depressed. We dabble in escapist ventures — be it movies, video games, alcohol, fantasy books, self mutilation, prescription meds, or one night stands. We cheat ourselves out of authentic relationships with real people. Be it within families, marriages, friendships, or churches… the monsters of biterness, jealousy, insecurity, and fear get in the way of living in community. We get caught up with success, status, and self preservation… and it isolates us.

 …Let it be no more.

plumeria, Hawaii

This semester I decided to do something radically different with my life —  to set aside my own agendas and issues, trust God in tangible ways, and live more like Christ and less like me. (See “Taking the PLUNGE” entry.) The past month or so the concept of community has been turning slowly in my brain like a pig roasting over the fire at a sunset luau… the more it turns over the more enticingly fragrant it becomes.

It’s a counter-cultural idea… in a society that values people who stand alone (the rugged individualist), I’m suggesting we stand together. Not in a way that compromises who we are, but in a way that shares who we are with the people around us. I’m not promoting co-dependence, I’m encouraging authentic relationship… allowing people to genuinely know us and seeking to know others.

The words of Richard Stearns, President of the humanitarian organization World Vision, resonate with the idea of bidding adieu to this “island” life. He says that our idea of privatized Christianity, of faith merely being between us and God, is incomplete Christianity isn’t a quick prayer uttered in one of life’s corners, it’s a transformational relationship with God that should overflow into every aspect of our lives… in other words, it’s not lived in isolation. In The Hole in Our Gospel (Thomas Nelson: 2009), Stearns says:

“The idea behind The Hole in Our Gospel is quite simple. It’s basically the belief that being a Christian, or follower of Jesus Christ, requires much more than just having a personal and transforming relationship with God. It also entails a public and transforming relationship with the world. If your personal faith in Christ has no positive outward expression, then your faith — and mine — has a hole in it.” (p.2).

Though Stearns is ultimately drawing attention to our responsibility to respond to global issues like poverty and rampant disease, I think his observation is spot on. We tend to compartmentalize our lives and our beliefs, and it hinders our ability to truly know and be known. Think about it… if you were to invite everyone you knew to the same party what would that look like?

Work friends. School friends. Neighbors. Family. Church friends. Out on the town friends. Sports friends. Facebook friends. New and old, everyone… would they know the same person? Clearly, people are multi-faceted and not each friendship will be a cookie-cutter of the next, but are we essentially the same in all our relationships… or do we adjust who we are based on expectations and fear?

the fall of the Berlin Wall, 1989

Friends, fear KILLS community. It breeds island dwellers. Authentic relationships simply cannot survive on the superficial; they have to be built on foundations of truth. (Think about what broken trust and betrayl do to a relationship, for example, when truth is compromised.) And truth-based relationships require a whole lot of LOVE, forgiveness, and vulnerability. The words of the apostle John come to mind:

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.” – 1 John 4:18

Perfect love casts out fear. Fear of being honest, of being rejected, vulnerable, exposed, judged. It is the polar opposite of pride. Pride demands self preservation… and, subsequently, it builds walls. The more proud we are the greater the distance becomes between “us” and “them”. But rather than distancing, love takes a risk and APPROACHES.

 

So, my hope is that we will distance a little less and love radically more. That we will build bridges off our islands and tear down the walls that protect our own pride and insecurity — and isolate us —  as we share honestly life’s pain and laughter, hope and love with the real people around us. Let us ask God for the courage and the grace to live in true community with one another. Let us bid farewell to “island” life.

Have a listen to Phil Wickham’s song, Beautiful. Nowhere is there a better example of perfect, unselfish love for others than that which is poured out in Christ’s love for humanity. It’s beautiful.

 

Photo credits:

http://www.softpedia.com/progScreenshots/Tropical-Island-Escape-Screenshot-35556.html

http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://aquaest.typepad.com/.a/6a00e5551268ac883401157100e500970c-320pi&imgrefurl=http://www.sulisminerva.org/2009/07/being-a-bridge-nan-degrove.html&usg=__jCTksMbToWUlvLittDrtdsep9fA=&h=320&w=213&sz=10&hl=en&start=69&zoom=1&itbs=1&tbnid=c_dWUWjYFslatM:&tbnh=118&tbnw=79&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dbridge%2Bat%2Bsunrise%26start%3D54%26hl%3Den%26safe%3Dactive%26sa%3DN%26gbv%3D2%26ndsp%3D18%26tbs%3Disch:1

http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/WK-AU418_TVREVI_G_20100623133659.jpg

http://www.brainmysteries.com/Images/cast_away_movie_Wilson_football.jpg

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Have you ever been cliff jumping? You know, where you run to the edge of a towering rock face and then throw your body over the side… free falling toward a  deep pool of icy water with ever increasing momentum? ..I haven’t.

I love the outdoors, I especially love water, and I love hanging out with adventure sports people. But my brain tends to be more of a calculating one… so how far OUT would I have to jump to avoid smashing into the cliff on the way down… how DEEP is that water… are there any hidden ROCKS lurking beneath the surface that could paralyze me?!  I want to calculate the risk before jumping. So, inevitably, I will stand at the edge of the rock face — gazing longingly at the refreshing water below — and watch person after person run, flailing or gracefully diving, and JUMP.

Do you live your life like the person who stands at the edge paused, hesistant to truly dive into something?  Have you been living with “one toe in”, involved somewhat but not fully invested in relationships, commitments, future plans, and –dare I say it — “church”? I have.

Ever wondered what it would be like to go all in? To really live the way that God intended? Sure, it’s easy to go to church, listen to the sermon, maybe even volunteer in the nursery, give money to a charitable organization, or lead a Bible study group. But I’m talking about something more… more than learning about what God has to say, actually living that way. I’m not suggesting it’s bad to do these things, but I am suggesting that we can do all this — and more — and still be standing at the edge of the cliff.

Those who will commit to nothing, who stand for nothing, and who risk for nothing, in the end, rarely accomplish anything. (The Bravehearted Gospel, p. 123)

Following God is not a list of “do nots” or guilt-laden commitments throughout the week;  it’s about relationship — first with the God of the universe and then with the people around us. Being a Christian is about living like Christ, not just talking about it. Let us not merely talk about theological questions of the ages, let us pray for our friends who have cancer, release bitterness and confront hatred, and allow the Bible to move from our brains and seep into our hearts that it may transform who we are and not just what we do. May what we DO flow out of who we are, out of love  for one another not out of obligation. May we not be legalistic, superficial, self-righteous people. May we not be people who have “the appearance of godliness” but deny its power (2 Timothy 3:5).

So what does this “all in” look like?

Black Rock cliff jump, Maui

I think it means caring more about what God thinks than the people we try to impress: romantic interests, colleagues, friends, bosses, parents, etc. It means that our motivations matter: the reasons behind our actions. It means relationships are saturated with honesty and love: we let down our walls and let people see us as we truly are… and we love on people as they truly are. It means we have to trust God with a LOT: we withdraw from the driver’s seat in life and yield to God’s guiding. It means we cut out the sin (the things that aren’t right before God) from our lives; we allow people to shine light on those areas and we listen to their words with humility. It means we spend time with God: reading the Bible and praying. It means instead of being crazy busy we prioritize and simplify: we go DEEP instead of WIDE. It means we apologize and forgive — always. We seek to restore broken relationships.

As a single girl in her 20s, let me add this to the ladies out there…  This also means we take an honest look at the way we interact with the guys in our lives. It means we gain our sense of beauty, power, identity, and worth not from the praises of charming — and not-so-charming — fellows, but from God. This doesn’t mean making ourselves unattractive, but rather taking a closer look at our wardrobes, especially the mini skirts and plunging shirts, and our hearts. I think jumping “all in” means we willingly relinquish the sense of power and control that comes from turning heads and collecting compliments. It means we choose to put God in the spotlight instead of ourselves.

Please hear me, this is not a formula. It’s not a “10 steps to heaven” deal. The Bible says people are saved through faith in Christ, it’s not something you earn (Ephesians 2:8-9, Titus 2:5) it’s something you believe (Romans 10:9). What I’m talking about is living a FULL life, at taking God at his word and believing that he really knows best how to approach life. So, go ahead and take the plunge… bring on the ripples of change! : )

photo credits:

http://lillianknight.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/cliff-jumping.jpg

https://heidibay.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/waterripples05l.jpg

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I’ve been thinking about “love” tonight… even more specifically about that little phrase that seems to pop up in like a spring daisy after a rain: someone to love. It’s a phrase that I’ve seen play out in movie after movie, in music, commercials, books, and conversations with friends over coffee and on the phone. It’s as if culturally we are obsessed with finding and/or having someone to love.

And it sounds innocent… perhaps even selfless. But is it?

heartcatsAre we really looking for someone to love, or someone to love us? Is it wrong to want to be loved? No, of course not. I whole heartedly believe that God created humanity out of love, to love. Love is ingrained in us… but I think while we sometimes when we pat ourselves on the back for selflessly loving someone else, it’s really ourselves that we are loving.

Think about it… are we loving those who don’t love us back?

If we love only people who return our attention and affections, are we simply loving ourselves through that person? “Someone to love” is phrased in such a way that we are the giver, the generous bestower of love… that makes us feel good about ourselves. It’s almost noble to find someone on whom to love and care for. But “someone to love me” is different because then we are the receiver, the benefactor of someone else’s love… it doesn’t sound as noble…

Please hear me, this is not a critique on falling in love, dating, or marriage. This is not a rant. It is an appeal. A challenge — as much to myself as anyone who might stumble across the thoughts that have been percolating in my brain… there are SO MANY people to love in this world… if we’re really seeking to bless others (rather than ourselves) let’s dive in…

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

homelessWhat about the homeless man who stands at the corner of the freeway exit every day? It’s 48 degrees outside right now, and — to add insult to injury — it’s raining.

What about the survivors of the Samoan tsunami and earthquake? Only a month has passed… have we already forgotten? Following a 8.0 earthquake, multiple tsunami waves crashed ashore American Samoa — killing more than 100 people. Sadly, the devastation in Samoa is not unique… people around the world are picking up pieces of tattered, broken lives and doing the best they can. Surely they could use our love.

The list goes on, and on… the neighbor who moved in across the street and doesn’t know anyone yet… the couple who just had a baby and could use a night off-duty… the coworker who shows up a little late, looking haggard… your friend who needs a listening ear… the teacher who could use a note of encouragement or kind word… the gas-station attendant who wouldn’t mind a smiling face to pass their way.

‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And [Jesus] said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend allthe Law and the Prophets.'” -Matthew 22:36-40

Big or small. International or domestic. Be it money, time, smiles, cookies, or prayers… Perhaps we can all put a little brain juice into thinking about how to better love the people who are around us — especially those from whom we have “nothing” to gain.

I know it’s easy to wait to find someone to love before we really start living. But I hope we won’t. I know it’s easy to withhold love from people who don’t deserve it. But I hope we won’t. I hope, instead, that as we’re waiting (be it job, marriage, kids, health, etc) that we’ll choose to love the people around us. BOTH those that will love us back and those that won’t. This song (“While I’m Waiting”, from Fireproof) is beautiful. Enjoy!

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