Identity Crisis (Part I)

1. You are not your opinions.

I know, it’s an election season, and I know, if they would just listen to the powerful, compelling arguments you’re shouting over their replies, then they would see the light, they would make the right decision, and they’d be so, so grateful to you for opening their mind to the truth about the state of our country and how your candidate can finally fix all the world’s problems. Am I right, or am I right?

Listen to me, and listen well: you are not your opinions. Sometimes we hold so tight to those–and I’m not just talking in a political context–it’s as if we’re afraid that if we let go of them, if we let them change, we’re losing a part of ourselves or compromising a fundamental truth. But get this: you’re not. As a full-fledged, God-created human, you’re so much more than your agenda. There are things so much more important than your opinions–including your values and relationships.

It may be an uncomfortable experience to realize you’re wrong, but you know what that is? That’s pride. And you know what? You can move past it. And I think usually, this leads to increased understanding and a better existence for all of us.

2. You are not your failures.

When looking at your fellow humans, it’s pretty easy to see primarily their successes. That’s because successes tend to be pretty public and failures tend to be relatively private.  Hank Green, YouTube sensation and creator of VidCon, recently uploaded a video about this very subject (you can check it out here), and John Green, acclaimed author of the best-selling The Fault in Our Stars, responded similarly (here). Both of them have experienced tremendous public success, yet both admit here the real story, the things we don’t see–the things that went wrong.

That’s not a good feeling, the feeling of failure. I’ve definitely experienced it, even in the last week. And you have that voice repeating over and over in your head: “Not enough.” Not good enough, not smart enough, not fast enough, not creative enough, not talented enough, not prepared enough, not pretty enough, not strong enough. Not enough.

But take heart: do you hear his voice? My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Failure is something you do, not something you are. And it’s done, and it’s over. That door has been closed; do you see the brightness up ahead? The mountain peak may be obscured by clouds, but when you reach the top, it will have been worth the climb, the scratches and soreness along the way–even if it turns out to be a different mountain than the one you thought you were climbing. You are so much more than any one role you take on–or thought you would take on. You are a person, not an occupation, achievement, or involvement.

3. You are not your successes.

You are a person, not an occupation, achievement, or involvement. This one can be tempting, because we often don’t realize we’re doing it. In fact, we often choose to adopt it to counteract #2. I may have failed in THIS area, but don’t forget about… And to a certain degree, that’s good, to not let your failures crush your dreams. But maybe this isn’t quite the right way to go about it. I think in reality, the realization of the weight you put on your failures is less the opposite of being defined by your successes, and more the result of it, the other side of the same coin.

You are more than your roles. More than a title, more than a job, more than your grades, more than your status, more than your reputation, more than your accolades, more than your position. And all of those things can be taken away in the blink of an eye.

4. You are not the standard in your head.

And neither is anybody else. It’s really, really easy to get caught in the trap of comparing yourself with others, or at least, the version of others that you see. We’re surrounded by mirrors, digital and actual, that reflect back at us the standard of what we should be, bouncing back into infinity like at the hairdresser’s until they’re magnified beyond attainability. Maybe what we should really be asking ourselves is, Is that really what I want to be? Maybe what we should really be doing is redefining the standard.

Jesus set it as himself. And then he died so that you didn’t have to meet it. That’s why the curtain tore, you know. It was tearing away the division, the lies, the sin that separates us. It was torn so that you could enter the Holy of Holies, unashamed and radiant. That is the truth of who you are. You are an orphan adopted, given a new name, chosen and treasured…and loved. What a powerful word.

5. You are not your reputation.

I barely even recognize any more how much of what I do is focused around gaining the acceptance, admiration, or approval of others–whoever those others may be. Your social media followers, your classmates, your coworkers, your inner circle, your teammates, your employer, your teachers, your family, your coach. Every decision you make is influenced by the people around you.

So for one, make sure they’re good people. And for two, make sure you don’t let it define you.

In reality, there is only one accolade we should be striving for. And that is, at the end of the day, to see his face, and hear his voice: Well done, good and faithful servant.

 

May you have the strength to climb the mountains and the faith to make them tremble. Remember, his grace is sufficient for you.

Blessings,
Bre

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The strength of my heart – Psalm 73:26

Yep, it’s another Psalm this week! Ack, I love the Psalms. I love the Psalms because they’re honest. They’re honest to God, and a lot of times, honesty isn’t pretty. The Psalms don’t hide that. The Psalms show the journey from every place on the spectrum, the web of human emotion, out of the confinement and confusion of my heart and into the light of truth, no room for shadows. They give these feelings shape with words, and bring them before the Father, the Rock, the Refuge, the Lover, the Savior, the Deliverer, the Healer, the Friend, the Comforter, the Holy One, the Creator, the Most High, the All Powerful, the All Knowing, the One who Protects, who Provides, who Understands, who Listens, who is Stronger, who is Greater, the Great I Am. And I…I am not–but I know I AM.

psalm 73-26

This verse comes from a Psalm of struggle. Of disillusionment. Of doubt. Of questioning. Of despair. Of loss of hope. But then, the Psalmist returns to the Rock. He was searching, and finally, he found. He found what he’d been looking for, all this time. He found something that would satisfy what the world never quite could.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And the earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My heart and flesh may fail,
but God is my strength, and my portion forever.

Bre

Turn on the light!!

Turn on the light

Albus Dumbledore said that. A man of whimsical wisdom, he was. He dealt with great tragedy early on in his life, which continued to shape him throughout his many years. He was well-known for his brilliance and his ability to see value in everyone, “however apparently insignificant or wretched,” as wrote his good friend Elphias Doge in his obituary. He was able to see things others couldn’t, and seemed to always have a plan behind the scenes that no one realized till the very end. He fought evil, pursued the greater good, and always believed, sometimes to his ridicule, in the potent power of love.

He has a number of quotes worth sharing, including, “It is our choices that show who we truly are, far more than our abilities,” “We must all face the choice between what is right, and what is easy,” and “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live,” among many others. But this one in particular caught my fancy, perhaps because for a long time, I didn’t quite understand it.

I first came across in its original context as I was reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,* in which I first took it to be merely one of Dumbledore’s typical tidbits: witty and whimsical and throwaway. After all, this is the man who when called upon to “say a few words” declared “Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!” In fact, his comments were some of my favorite parts of the entire series. Wise, quirky, and vaguely portentous-sounding.

But later, it gave me pause.

Because we’ve all been through dark places, right? Maybe you’re in one now. Maybe it doesn’t look like there’s a way out, doesn’t feel like there ever will be. Maybe it’s the loss of a job, difficulties at home, that final word from someone you thought you loved. Maybe it’s abandonment, maybe it’s rejection, maybe it’s failure. Maybe it’s depression, maybe it’s doubt, maybe it’s anxiety, maybe it’s pain, maybe it’s hopelessness, maybe it’s fear, maybe it’s just plain weariness of living the same cycle over and over and over again.

Maybe it’s something big, and maybe it’s something small. Maybe it’s something that you know feels bigger than it is but you can’t help but only see the mountain, and its shadow stretching for miles. It’s only an uphill climb, and your legs feel like lead, and just when you’re about to reach the end an avalanche sends you right back to where you started.

You ever feel this way?

I know I have.

Maybe it’s not a struggle of circumstance. Maybe it’s a struggle on the inside. Maybe, like me, your struggle, your habitual sin, your addiction is pride, or envy, or lust, or criticism, or irritableness, or anger, or selfishness, or malcontent, or entitlement, or malice, or gossip, or deceit, or hatred, or quarreling, or maybe it’s something else, something you’re scared to name. Maybe it’s something you feel like you can’t stop, or that you’ve been trying to stop and sometimes you think you’ve finally arrived but then you spiral right back down again the second you think you’ve won.

Maybe the reason for that is that you’re trying to fight on your own.

I know that’s what I tend to do a lot of the time. I put the burden of my sin on my shoulders, coming up with a list of all my errors and brainstorming millions of methods to fix myself. Except…I can’t. I’m never good enough. Ever. Nothing I do, it never amounts to anything in the long run. I never get anywhere, I’m never “fixed.”

Then, finally, I go to the last place I have left.

John 6:66-69 says,

From this time, many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.
So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

To whom shall we go?

Isn’t that a question? We can go to our friends. Our partner. Our pills. Our media. Our Internet. Our default. Our distractions. The thing that makes us forget, the thing that makes us not care, the thing that takes the pain away.

Does it, though? Does it really take the pain away?

In the Tenth Avenue North song “We Won’t Numb the Pain” there’s  a segment that says, “We want a cure, not a medication.” I might be young, but there’s one thing I have learned in life: there’s only one cure. There’s only one way to kill the darkness.

And that is to turn on the Light.

Psalm 50:2 (this is another great Psalm to read, on the power of God) says,

Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth!

1 John 1:5 reiterates,

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you: that God is Light, and in him there is no darkness at all.

Light reveals, light leads, light purifies, light comforts. This light–this light heals. It restores. It makes whole. It satisfies the searchers, it completes the broken, it comforts the hurting, it says, “I Am enough. My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”

What a beautiful concept.

When Moses, before the burning bush, requested the Name of God, that he might tell the people by whom he was sent, he received two words: I AM.

I Am. I Am Light. I Am Love. I Am Power. I Am Life. I Am the Way. I Am the Truth. I Am Grace. I Am Might. I Am Strength. I Am Enough. I Am the Rock. I Am your Refuge. I Am your Shield. I Am your Comforter. I Am Pure. I Am Holy. I Am Sovereign. I Am the Lord of the Universe. I Am the Maker of the Stars. I Am the Painter of the Sunsets. I Am the Namer of your Soul. I Am the Weaver of your Heart. I Am the Sculptor of your Mind. I Am the One who Knows, who Understands, who Guides, who Strengthens, who Loves, who Pursues, who Reigns, who is Worthy. I Am God.

He is God. Sometimes we use that word so much it loses it’s meaning. He is God.

Don’t lose that. Don’t forget, in the darkness, who calls you to the light. Don’t forget who isn’t just some distant force out there in space, who isn’t running away from you, who’s not trying to make you stumble but to draw you to himself.

Don’t forget who God is. And don’t forget to turn on the Light.

Bre

dumbledore

Fractures

About six months ago I was at a youth retreat (my original post following it can be found here), and the speaker shared three simple principles that have been on my mind the last week or so:

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Communion: n. the state of being united as one with another (co-union)

1. We were created for communion. That’s what Eden was. Adam and Eve, they literally went on walks with God, the creator of the universe and igniter of the stars. God and man enjoyed each other. The thing is, because we were created for communion, if we don’t find it with God, we start looking for it in other places. For instance, the communion within a family, a marriage, is intended to be healthy, a reflection of our communion with God. But take God out of the picture, and you start looking for that communion in extramarital sex, same-gender attraction…We seek satisfaction from the pacifiers: friends, school, career, extracurriculars, achievements, escape–but pacifiers don’t meet the real need, and you’re always left still hungry, even if the baby stops crying for a while. In Eden, God came looking for us, but we hid because we knew we’d done wrong. But even when I’m hiding in the closet from my heavenly Father, I don’t stop being his daughter, his little girl. Because I’ve been born again, I don’t have to remain beholden to sin. I’m just holding onto chains already broken.

2. My sin violates communion. So when I became a Christian, when I was cleansed of my sins, I had communion. That’s one kind of communion, the communion that means I won’t be separated from God forever. But what about the sins I committed today? It fractures communion. It breaks it. It puts a wall between me and God. Jesus came so that communion could be restored, but sin breaks that. Yes, he forgives, he cleanses, and he has defeated sin. But let’s face it: I don’t have a perfect relationship with God. There, I said it! And when I’m feeling that gap between me and God, well, it means there’s a fracture in communion.

3. Communion can be restored by confession and repentance. Not in an endless cycle kind of way, but in an oh, so this explains why I’m having this problem kind of way. Real quick:

Confession: admitting your sins to God (I work with kids, and we explain it as basically tattling on yourself) Repentance: turning away from your sin

So basically, the thing these three key ideas revealed to me in a new way was the direct relationship between my sin and my closeness to God. Sounds basic perhaps, but, well, it’s easy to miss, isn’t it? In a world where we’re constantly bombarded with everything imaginable thrown at us, in a world where certain sins are culturally acceptable and even celebrated, it’s easy for things to slip through the cracks. And it’s easy for some sins to seem less than others. And it’s easy to make excuses, to justify and rationalize until the situation becomes to convoluted with “technically”s and “well, at least…”s that you’d think we’d realize that the fact that we feel we need to provide all this justification of our own only proves the case that it’s not right at all. It’s easy for some sins to seem small. It’s easy for habits to not be counted. Maybe that’s why, at camps and retreats, we can feel so much closer to God, in such a purer way. It’s because we’re not just away from distractions and obvious temptations, but away from habits. Habits like breaking your parents’ rules or snapping at your siblings. “Oh, it’s nothing. It doesn’t really matter.” I’ve realized that maybe that explains some of the distance. That, well, maybe there are some sins in my life that need to go. Oh, not the big, weighty, abstract things–it’s the small but real disobediences fracturing communion and sowing rocks. So may you, as well, find what causes fractures in your communion. May you offer it as a sacrifice on the altar and watch it burn. May you experience the purifying freshness of his Spirit and his grace falling on you like rain and may you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi.

Blessings,
Bre

STRESSED?

Yeah, me too.

For those of you who missed the memo, it’s Holy Week. If you’re anything like me, though, you’ve been feeling anything but holy. The last few days, I’ve been under a lot of stress from in a lot of different areas of my life. Sadly, it not only leaves me frustrated, exhausted, and irritable, but it doesn’t leave a lot of time for things like, oh, I don’t know, actually stopping to breathe?? Let alone prayer, meditation, Scripture. Or sleep, for that matter.

Once school let out, that helped. But it’s been a rough week, and things aren’t looking to let up anytime soon. I have a long list of things that worry me, of pressures I stagger under, of expectations I struggle to meet, of demands that gobble up my time, energy, and willpower. So much so that it wasn’t until Friday that I suddenly realized: this was the day that Jesus died.

This was the day that Jesus died.

What do you say to that? How do you respond? It’s so ironic that we call it “Good Friday,” when for anyone around when it happened, this was defeat.

The cross was not a symbol of hope, of victory, or of faith. The cross was a brutal instrument of torturous execution, and for anyone who believed in Jesus, it was a sign of hopelessness, of defeat, and of loss. It meant that the man who they thought would be the One had died, and they had lost everything.

They had given everything to follow Jesus. They had left their homes, their families, their livelihoods, their reputations, their possessions far behind. And now he was dead.

And no one would be surprised if they were next.

And think of Jesus. How false the cheers of the crowd must have felt on Palm Sunday, when he knew that the same ones would be calling for his crucifixion just a few days later. Even at the Last Supper, his disciples still didn’t get it. What it must have taken to wash Judas’ feet and hours later receive his condemning kiss. His cries to God in the garden, under so much pressure that he was sweating blood.

How long it took. Trial after trial, flogging after flogging, the mocking cries echoing in his ears before finally, they put him on the cross, and he hung for hours, slowly asphyxiating.

And it was finished. Finally, it was finished.

And death had won. Satan had won. The Son of God was dead.

What if that were the end of the story?

Thank God it wasn’t.

The ground began to shake, the stone was rolled away–his perfect love could not be overcome! Now death, where is your sting?? Our resurrected King has rendered you defeated!

Nothing makes Easter matter more than wondering what if it hadn’t happened. The resurrection was bold, defiant, and triumphant. Christ has overcome! We have overcome! In the moment when all seemed lost–out of that came the whole point.

The resurrection is not a moment of “yay, Jesus is alive, clap-clap-clap, let’s go eat chocolate eggs!” No, the resurrection is a moment of power, when God showed once and for all who is in control. It’s a moment of defiance, of the powers of darkness that hold this world captive. The resurrection is not an event by itself–it’s powerful because Jesus. Was. Dead. Death is final. But…he is alive! Unstoppable, unfathomable, unbeatable love, standing tall in a white fire.

It’s humbling. And it’s awe-inspiring. It’s insane, really, that he should love me that much. I know I sure don’t deserve it, not me.

The disciples didn’t know he would rise again. Now he’s left us–but again, it is not forever. He’s coming back. Do you believe it?