broken and healed

we represent a generation that wants to turn back a nation – to let love be our light and salvation

FYI (from the teenage girl)

FYI (if you’re a teenage girl)  has popped up in my newsfeed several times over the past couple days. I read it because, well, I’m a teenage girl. And although I don’t particularly like being told what to do, I thought the article might provide some interesting insight into something relevant to me.

So I read it. Before I had even finished the article, I stormed into the kitchen, laptop in hand, and began frustratedly reading the entire article out loud to my mom. The nature of the article horrified me and still does, now that I’ve taken the time to cool down and read it again. I want to respond to the article itself since so much of my community seems to be worshiping its message. But many of the themes presented in it have been showing up so frequently in other articles and discussions as modesty seems to have become a very hot topic, particularly in Christian homeschooled community. And I think we’ve gotten a lot of things wrong.

Mrs. Hall, the author of the article and owner of the blog, begins her post by saying,

“Dear girls,

I have some information that might interest you. Last night, as we sometimes do, our family sat around the dining-room table and looked through your social media photos.

We have teenage sons, and so naturally there are quite a few pictures of you lovely ladies to wade through. Wow – you sure took a bunch of selfies in your pajamas this summer!  Your bedrooms are so cute! Our eight-year-old daughter brought this to our attention, because with three older brothers who have rooms that smell like stinky cheese, she notices girly details like that.”

I immediately found this strange, and I hope we can all appreciate why. Their family actually sits around the table together and goes through girls’ pictures with at least the partial intention of determining whether or not the friends look “too sexy” (as we see later). I appreciate family involvement in friendships and everything, but making a family event out of looking at your sons’ female friends’ pictures seems to be a bit askew as far as priorities go. (I’m also wondering if they look at their sons’ male friends’ pictures…)

The next thing we see is a picture of her boys on the beach, shirtless. Showing off their muscles. They kind of look like male Abercrombie models…you know, half-naked men posing in certain ways to heighten the sexual appeal of the product. My double-standard alert clicked on (and never turned off, because she never once mentions the fact that guys need to be modest, too…).

“I think the boys notice other things. For one, it appears that you are not wearing a bra.

I get it – you’re in your room, so you’re heading to bed, right? But then I can’t help but notice the red carpet pose, the extra-arched back, and the sultry pout.  What’s up? None of these positions is one I naturally assume before sleep, this I know.”

Well apparently us girls are not supposed to be adopting the stereotypical flirtatious female look (although I honestly wasn’t aware that a lack of bra had anything to do with that…and I don’t know how they determined that without looking very closely at the girl). And you know, that’s true. Girls have spent way too much time, money, and dignity in our attempts to replicate the seemingly perfect women we see receiving all the affection and attention. Our selfies are pretty stupid and self-centered. We want our friends–boys and girls alike–to see pictures of us and think we’re attractive because society likes attractive people in attractive clothing and attractive poses. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with trying to look good; true beauty may be on the inside, but God gave us an outside for a reason. There is, however, an over-focus on sexual appearances because that’s what we’re taught. In my community, that’s what we’re taught half of the time. The other half of the time, we’re being taught that we need to cover up our bodies because if we’re not, we’re being immodest and sinful. It’s really confusing. But more on that later.

“So, here’s the bit that I think is important for you to realize.  If you are friends with a Hall boy on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, then you are friends with the whole Hall family.

Please understand this, also: we genuinely like keeping up with you. We enjoy seeing life through your unique and colorful lens – which is what makes your latest self-portrait so extremely unfortunate.”

Well that’s just not true, because if my unique and colorful lens happens to involve less clothing than your family deems appropriate, you don’t want to look through that lens.

“Those posts don’t reflect who you are! We think you are lovely and interesting, and usually very smart. But, we had to cringe and wonder what you were trying to do? Who are you trying to reach? What are you trying to say?

And now – big bummer – we have to block your posts. Because, the reason we have these (sometimes awkward) family conversations around the table is that we care about our sons, just as we know your parents care about you.

I know your family would not be thrilled at the thought of my teenage boys seeing you only in your towel. Did you know that once a male sees you in a state of undress, he can’t ever un-see it?  You don’t want the Hall boys to only think of you in this sexual way, do you?”

No…I don’t want your boys to only think of me in this sexual way. 50% of that is my responsibility. The other 50%? Your boys’ responsibility. Never in the entire article does she really put any responsibility on men. But if your son sees a picture of me wearing, say, a bikini and 1. Lingers on it 2. Lets the image sink so far into his brain that he can’t “un-see” it 3. Now only thinks of me in a sexual way, he has a heart problem that needs to be addressed. As a girl, I try. I wear shorts with a reasonable length and an appropriate neckline and I don’t walk around with my stomach exposed. Yet I’ve still been approached by people telling me that I’m dressed immodestly and thus creating a “stumbling block” for my “fellow brothers in Christ.” I’ll wear my mid-thigh length shorts and three-finger width tank top (which is totally appropriate for 100 degree Julys in southern California), and I’ll expect your sons to continue to think of me by my character traits, whatever those are.

“And so, in our house, there are no second chances, ladies. If you want to stay friendly with the Hall men, you’ll have to keep your clothes on, and your posts decent.  If you try to post a sexy selfie, or an inappropriate YouTube video – even once – you’ll be booted off our on-line island.”

Wow. This is a Christian family. A family of sinners, regenerated and redeemed and given a million second chances by Christ, refusing to give a girl a second chance if she one time violated their subjective standards of modesty and appropriateness. What kind of message does that teach their sons? One of love and respect? Or one of judgement and legalism?

“I know that sounds harsh and old-school, but that’s just the way it is under this roof for a while. We hope to raise men with a strong moral compass, and men of integrity don’t linger over pictures of scantily clad high-school girls.

They’re never going to learn to exercise self-control in the real world if you block the real world out of their social media. You can’t block a scantily clad girl when you’re walking down the street.

“Every day I pray for the women my boys will love.  I hope they will be drawn to real beauties, the kind of women who will leave them better people in the end. I also pray that my sons will be worthy of this kind of woman, that they will be patient – and act honorably – while they wait for her.”

I know she doesn’t explicitly state this, but the rhetoric in the post seems to suggest that a woman who one time posted a “sexy selfie” of herself is unfit to marry a Hall son. Even if that’s not what she meant, that’s the painful message of judgement her words send.

“Girls, it’s not too late! If you think you’ve made an on-line mistake (we all do – don’t fret – I’ve made some doozies), RUN to your accounts and take down  anything that makes it easy for your male friends to imagine you naked in your bedroom.”

And what objective standard of modesty should I use to determine that? Because I am sick and tired of being fearful that whatever I’m wearing is going to “cause a brother to stumble” and bring the wrath of a mom I love and respect down on me.

“Will you trust me? There are boys out there waiting and hoping for women of character. Some young men are fighting the daily uphill battle to keep their minds pure, and their thoughts praiseworthy.”

Good. Thank God for those men. Unfortunately, forcefully deleting a girl from your pure sons’ minds because she made one mistake isn’t turning them into Godlier young men. It’s making him more judgmental, less forgiving, and more convinced that a scantily clad girl has turned herself into an object to be deleted.

Now, all that said, if a girl continually posts inappropriate pictures of herself and becomes a stumbling block to your sons, encourage them to take action. Perhaps defriending someone is the right choice in certain situations. But posting an article that calls out nameless girls, judges them, shames them, blames them, and tells them they’ve lost their chance? That’s hurtful.

As I noted, girls like me are pulled in two different directions every single day:
1. You’re a prude. Loosen up, show some skin, show off your body, and draw attention.
2. You’re inappropriately sexual. Cover up some more, hide your body, cover your bra straps (as if it’s some secret that I wear one), and make sure you don’t draw any attention to your outer appearance.

The first side completely destroys my self-esteem and tells me that I am a sexual object that should act like one, because that’s the only reason men will give me a second glance. The second side completely destroys my self-esteem and tells me that I should be ashamed of my body and showing it off because no man of character and purity would want that.

Christian homeschooled community: We are putting girls into a dilemma that they cannot solve and intensifying it with judgement and single chances. There’s nothing we can do about the message the world sends. But there is something we can do about the message we send.

So instead of preaching to me on the internet, telling me that I can’t wear a bikini or make a sultry face in my pictures…get to know me. Love me. Understand me. Develop a relationship with me. And then gently come to me with your honest, non-judgmental concerns, while also understanding that your subjective standards of modesty may not be in line with mine. That’s how you reach a teenage girl–or anyone else. With a message of love and redemption.

For us emotional, estrogen-filled, hormonal teenage girls, it’s hard enough for us to understand life. Please don’t defriend some really fantastic girl because she once made a mistake. She will walk away hurt and confused, not better because of it. Please don’t gossip about me and my clothing/makeup choices behind my back. Please don’t decide amongst yourselves that my parents haven’t done a good enough job of raising me because our family’s modesty standards happen to be different from yours. Please don’t teach your sons to not associate with me. Please stop telling me I’m not good enough because I make some appearance-related mistakes.

I, along with so many of my peers, am trying really hard every day to be pure of mind and heart, too. It’s a process, and it’s a long and difficult one. I can’t do it if I feel like you’re scrutinizing me through a tiny microscope.

The Age of Innocence

My mom didn’t let me cross the street by myself until I was ten-years-old. When I was nine, of course, this humiliated me immensely. But when I look back, I can only see love in her eyes.

Many years ago, when my family used to take walks with our dogs, my dad would always make me walk on the inner side of the sidewalk when we were on busy streets. It upset me because I thought it was fun to walk along the edge. But when I look back, I can only see love in his eyes.

When I was nine, my mom had a baby boy. As soon as I held him in my arms for the first time, I realized with gravity how much responsibility I had over him: I wasn’t just his babysitter. My actions could mean life or death for him. When I was ten or eleven, I started helping out with children’s Sunday school at my church. Teaching was such a struggle for me because I hated having to find that balance between effective teaching and showing compassion. Almost two years ago, I started offering child care to moms in my church who wanted to go to Bible study and didn’t have babysitters. On the first or second week, a mom brought her two and four-year-old. The two-year-old boy sat in my arms and cried and cried for thirty straight minutes. As stressed as it made me at the time, all I wanted to do was hold and comfort him until he felt safe again. At the beginning of the school year, I started helping elementary school kids with their homework at my local library. The first week, a fourth grader sat at my table, and she’s attached to herself to me ever since. She trusts me with stories about how kids have been mean to her and how her parents haven’t always been nice. She sees me as a pillar. A couple months ago, I started volunteering at the children’s hospital that my little sister was treated at. I’m a customer service ambassador, and every time I walk into a room to see another child suffering in some way or another, I realize that I have the power to make a difference in their life. Even if it’s minimal, I can add joy to their tired faces.

Our children are unquestionably one of the most precious things we have. Why do we abuse them so? Why do five [reported] children die every single day from abuse? Why are kids afraid to cross the street at dusk? Why do I get little girls telling me that the older kids at their school call them names? Why are children being ignored and stuck in front of the television instead of being talked to and loved? Why are countless movies and books centered around kids with abusive parents, or no parents at all? Why are hundreds of thousands of young children be trafficked into slavery–sexual, physical, and emotional abuse every day? Why are young kids living on the streets by themselves, weak and vulnerable and scared? Why are younger and younger children suffering from emotional trauma, psychological disorders, depression, and even committing suicide? Can no one hear their voices?

I’m a homeschooler, so it seems like half of my friends are intensely involved in the pro-life movement. I’m so thankful and proud of them for making a difference and stopping the deaths of innocent lives. But what about the living? Their voices may be quiet, but they need advocates, too. They need us to stand up for them. They need the world to scream and shout and help until they’re saved from their pain. We are the world. We can make a difference.

Children are a beautiful thing and an invaluable resource. Don’t let them go.

http://www.humantrafficking.org/combat_trafficking
http://www.casaforchildren.org/site/c.mtJSJ7MPIsE/b.5301295/k.BE9A/Home.htm
http://www.standupforkids.org/

Here and Now (Happy Birthday)

Dear Katherine,

Today is your eighth birthday. Today is usually the day when I write about how I miss you and how I’ve dealt with losing you. But that just doesn’t seem right today. I don’t want to mourn your loss anymore; I want to live as if everything you are was and is a blessing. It is.

I just want you to know that I’m okay. I feel closure. I still feel sad when I think about how I lost you, but I’m doing so much better than before. Finally, the pang in my heart doesn’t run as deep. The fabricated memories aren’t as tragic. The real memories aren’t as fuzzy anymore because I’m not so confused about them. You were here, now you’re not. I see that now, and I see that that’s okay. I’m not the only one who’s ever suffered loss like this. People get through tragedies every day. I’m one of those people. I won’t collapse under longing. Losing you, as horrible as it was, made me stronger. And I will forever be grateful for that.

When I lost you, I was such a weak and confused little girl. I had been so blessed and spoiled that I didn’t know what it was like to hurt. That’s how an eight-year-old should live. But since then, I’ve been given beyond belief and imagination.

I want you to know that I’m alive. I’m not just surviving: I’m alive. I don’t shut out the pain anymore–like I had ever since I lost you. I’ve accepted it now, I’m healing, and I’m moving on. I’m taking huge steps to deal with all that’s happened in my life. I refuse to be a failure story. I’ll be a success, I’ll be an inspiration, and I’ll carry you through it all in my heart.

I want you to know that I’ve moved on. I don’t cling to the past anymore. I don’t live on my memories. I don’t flush away my feelings with food and things that make me reminisce. I live in and long for the future. I’m excited to see what’s in store for me now.

I want you to know that I’ve branched out. I’m not as closed up as I had been ever since I lost you. I’m still an introvert, but I let people in. I invite people in. I seek people out and try to make friends. It’s so hard for me, and I don’t think everyone really realizes that, but that’s okay because I know I’m trying. I’m living inside the world.

I want you to know that I’m trying. I won’t give up. I won’t stay down forever. I’ll fall, for sure. But I’ll get back every. single. time. because it’s worth it. If I can get over losing the one thing I’ve ever wanted, I can get over anything.

I want you to know that I wish I could share every moment of this with you. I wish I could live with you and watch you grow and hold you and play with you. I wish I had that special sort of best friend that every girl wants. The one that will never leave their side, no matter how horrible circumstances become or how messed up she gets. All the time, I think about what I’d do if you were here. But…then I remember that you’re not, and that that’s okay, because I’m living life to its fullest exactly how it is.

I want you to know that I’ll never forget you, I’ll always miss you, and I’ll always love you. I wish I had you in this life, but I’ll spend eternity with you in the next, and that’s beyond anything I could ever hope for in the present.

I wish I was telling you stories right now about the night you were born. I wish we were planning your eighth birthday party. I wish I was making you cupcakes and hiding your presents from you. I wish I was doing your hair and dressing you up in your favorite outfit. But I’m not. And that’s okay.

In this world or not, you’ll always be my little sister.

Love,
Brenna

Live Loved

Today is Suicide Prevention Day. I considered writing a long blog post, but I really just have one thing to say divided up into three little parts.

I wrote “love” on one wrist and “hope” on the other today. This symbolizes a movement to stop suicide, depression, self-harm, eating disorders, and many other struggles. People mock this movement, developed by To Write Love on Her Arms, because they say it can never achieve anything. They mock those of us who do wear the word love because they think we’re just following a trend and not accomplishing anything in the end. And certainly, there are the few who are following trends. But it offends and angers me when people tell me I’m not accomplishing anything because I write “love” on my wrists. I know Sharpie on my skin doesn’t accomplish much in and of itself. I’m not an idiot. Neither is anyone else whose wrists look like mine right now. This action is a symbol that represents something greater. It represents a community working together to actively love, help, and give hope to those who are struggling so deeply that they don’t have those things. So don’t tell us we’re not doing anything. It is so frustrating, especially to those of us who are just searching for ways to help. If you think that writing on our wrists is all there is to it for most people, then frankly, you’re talking out of ignorance and you need to do your research. http://www.twloha.com/vision/ Please read it. That’s what we’re all about.

To those of you who are a little apathetic about the whole issue: don’t be a reason for criticism. Don’t just write “love” on your wrists and be done with it. Love is the movement. Movement is action. When you support TWLOHA or suicide prevention or anything else, you’re saying that you care enough to try to make a difference. So please do try. You could save a life.

And finally, to those of you who are struggling with the pain I work to solve every day: I just want you to remember one thing. Not just today; for the rest of your life. Two simple words: Live Loved. You are loved. You are loved by your family, by your friends, and by complete strangers. I know you’ve heard it again and again. Today, no matter what you’re going through, make it your personal mission to strive to internalize that message. Live as if you are loved beyond your wildest imaginations–because you are. I work to save your life and heal your heart. But I can’t do it on my own. I need you to try, too. Pursue your life.

Live loved, my friends.

Flee Fear

I love school and working. I have a literally unhealthy obsession with them. And by literally, I mean literally. During the school year, I will sleep very little and endure extreme amounts of stress–willingly. People ask me why all the time. Even though I try not to, I do complain. I get cranky from exhaustion. I cry because of the pressure. Some days, I do nothing except watch Netflix because I wore myself out so badly. But I do it for a reason.

You see, I’m going somewhere.

I’m going somewhere that slackers, those without dreams, those refuse to work hard, and, most of all, the fearful will never see. I’m going straight in the direction of my dreams. I have to climb a mountain to get there, but when I’m on the top, I’ll look down at the rocks and thorns and steep slopes and know that every second was worth it.

You might be one of those people that has no interest in that sort of lifestyle. And frankly, to reach a lot of dreams, you don’t have to be like me. You also may want the stress and work that I endure, but you continually find yourself lagging. Maybe you sabotage yourself when you’re close. Maybe you never even try. Maybe you always stay just far enough behind. Why? I think I can answer well because I used to be in the same place

We are afraid.

We are so afraid of failure. We’re afraid of disappointment. We’re afraid of loss. We’re afraid of pain. We’re afraid of our own insecurities. We’re afraid of lack of encouragement. We’re afraid of our own inabilities. Some of us are even afraid of success.

But we don’t need to be! You don’t need to be afraid. You are strong, you are beautiful, you are creative, intelligent, loving, lovable, worthy, and capable. And letting your fear hold you back will do absolutely nothing for you. It’s only going to ensure constant and total failure.

You don’t need to be like me. You don’t need to be a workaholic or an Ivy student or a million-dollar-earner or a PhD or a straight A student or any of that. All I want you to do is try. Please, for me–chase your dreams, no matter how many fears clog your senses.

Mark Twain once said a few very wise words, and I really can’t think of a more eloquent way to put it.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Sanctuary

I spent my past week at my third Worldview Academy camp. WVA is like Christmas for Christian nerds. We actually pay money to sit in 26 hours of lectures and evangelize. It’s such an incredible experience.

I grew a lot this week, but it’s hard for me to verbalize it in one post just yet. I think nearly everything can be summed up in the song we always sing at the end of camp:

Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary
Pure and holy, tried and true
With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living
Sanctuary for You 

The words are simple yet beautiful, and they capture my heart’s response to the week I just spent immersed in the Lord.

To be a bit more specific, we always hear a lecture on student leadership that examines the five pillars of leadership: meekness, integrity, vision, attitude, and empowerment. Over the next five weeks, I’m going to work on incorporating one of these pillars into my life each week. At the end of the week, I’ll post about how it’s gone.

Pray for me as I work on meekness this week!

Loyalty

I usually make a post on Easter. Or, at least, I start one and then never finish it because I do that far too often. This year, though, my heart is calling me to make a post today, on Good Friday: the day we remember the death of Christ. But it was far more than a death; it was an act of loyalty like no other.

I was talking to my friend the other day, and in the midst of our conversation, he said the most interesting thing to me: “you have the air of someone who’s been through hell.” It made me think. Yes, I’ve endured many awful circumstances and am still healing from a lot of that. But what I’ve been through pales in comparison to the literal hell that Christ endured for me. When Christ died on the cross, he endured spiritual separation. He wasn’t simply tortured and mocked in ways considered explicitly inhumane to the average human being, let alone the Son of God. He also had to take the blow of hell and feel complete segregation from a holy God in order to take our punishment for us. How incredible is that?

It made me feel pathetic. I’ve been through a lot, but nothing that compares to what Christ endured. But, if I had the opportunity, would I have chosen to endure the pain I have or pass it off on someone else? Although I would love to think I’d choose the former, I don’t know if I really would. But my God, filled with love and passion for me, went through extraordinary and unimaginable pain so that I would never have to. He felt the pain of God forsaking Him in order to never forsake me. That is such a beautiful fact.

Since I started counseling a few months ago, I’ve come to realize one thing very clearly: I am completely and 100% terrified of abandonment. I’m not really sure what struck that fear so hard in my heart, but it is prominent in nearly everything I do. I cannot function or do anything that I think could possibly lead to someone abandoning me. I don’t like getting close to anyone, because that gives them the opportunity to leave. I don’t like to let people take care of me, because then I rely on them, which means it will hurt more if they leave me. Sometimes, it’s hard for me to give my heart and soul to God because a little part of me is afraid that He’ll leave me.

But He won’t. He died for me and for you. He went through hell so that I could have life. He was mocked and ridiculed so that I could have glory I do not deserve in any way. He became nothing so that I could have everything. I have lost a lot in my life, but I will never lose Him. He doesn’t need me, and yet He wants me; we were all more important to Him than His personal comfort and pride. That is incredible.

1 John 4:8-10 reminds us that

The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Reflect on that for a moment. We all have our own personal and worldly definitions of love, but truly, God is the definition of love. We do not deserve an ounce of His mercy and grace, and yet He gives freely out of love. He fathers and cares for us out of love. He promises to call us home one day into His eternal kingdom out of love.

You worry about whether or not other people will like you and stay with you. Maybe the fear isn’t as strong to you as it is to me, but it still affects you. Sometimes, you wonder if anyone cares for you at all. You fear that those you love the most will leave you. You fear that they’ll judge you. You fear that if share your secrets and reveal your true self, they’ll hate you for it.

Why are you afraid of the judgement and abandonment of man? Why are you afraid of losing the love of someone who is no greater than you? Why do you work so hard to please infallible peers that will always be imperfect and always disappoint you instead of serving and living for the perfect One who never will?

1 John is nearly all about the sacrifice, love, and grace of Christ…and then it randomly ends with this little verse:

Little children, guard yourselves from idols.

It seems so out of place and anticlimactic. But when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. We spend so much time idolizing other people that we perceive as pretty, smarter, or kinder than ourselves. We spend so much time watching others and trying to be better than them. Do we forget that our purpose in life is not to compete with others, but instead to live for and serve God to the best of our abilities? I have never seen a verse in the Bible that says God valued one man above another because the first man was less socially awkward, or smarter, or funnier, or more attractive. God created us as who we are because this is how He wants us. All He asks is that we use the tools He has given us to serve His purpose and glory…not our own.

God will never abandon or forsake us. He has made this abundantly clear through words and actions–through death and the endurance of hell. Yet we betray Him every day by focusing more on other people and ourselves than God and His commands. It’s really rather sad. And it gets us nowhere in life.

This Friday, I remember God’s loyalty. I remember that He will not abandon me. I remember that He went through hell for me. But I also remember that it is my duty as a child of God and a beneficiary of His sacrifice to love and serve in deed as He has commanded me to. And honestly? No life is more satisfying than one completely devoted to God and His will.

Do not be afraid. Stop going through the motions to put on a front for others. Do not concern yourself with what one in seven billion people thinks of you. Do not deny who you are and what you are in Christ in order to resist abandonment from one person. If you’re constantly running toward God, people will start to realize that you’ve got something they want, too. Then they’ll start chasing after you. And we’ll all be unified and completely committed in Christ.

Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Love, not Judgement

I take a composition class right now. Over the past week, our assignment was to write a seven-paragraph argument that we would read aloud in class for peer review. I chose a topic that has taken a lot of space in my heart lately: legalizing gay marriage. I advocated this in my paper.

[as a disclaimer: I do not support gay marriage itself as perfectly righteous and unsinful. however, I do not believe the government should outlaw in, and I certainly do not believe I have any place judging homosexuals.]

Many of my classmates pleasantly surprised me with uplifting, encouraging comments, commending my risky topic choice. But one classmate said things that honestly offended me with their harshness and ignorance. This classmate referred to gays and their relationships with an offensive term, said that we should discourage their ability to open up about their sexuality, and that creating a social stigma will make them think twice about “going far from the ‘straight’ path.” My classmate’s words horrified me. I do not understand how a Christian who believes the Bible and believes in the love of Jesus Christ could use such offensive terms to describe another human being–and not a person who has committed a crime, acted disrespectfully or inappropriately, or whom my classmate has even met.

I notice a problem in my dear Christian homeschooled community: judgement. Judgement where it does not belong, coming from the mouths of people who have no right to exercise judgement, on people they have not taken the time to truly know. This judgement stems from many things, particularly social legalism, and it causes many harms, including a vicious stigma. The results of social stigmas and the other varying impacts horrify me. Psychological disorders, seclusion, and death. As I researched for my paper, I came across a study that stated severe social stigma has increased the rate of suicide in gays by 8.6%. We need to realize that our words have extreme power. And not just our words, but the slightest gesture of the hand, stare, or disgusted look. Every little thing can build up in the heart of an already sensitive person–whether a homosexual or a person struggling with something else–and cause severe shame, depression, and all the relating physical impacts.

A study by the National Mental Health Strategy entitled Stigma and Discrimination starts out with this very first sentence in the introduction: “The top-ranking factor that Australians with mental illness say would improve their lives is reducing stigma.” And where does that stigma come from? Our judgment.

I’m a conservative Protestant who opposes gay marriage on a scriptural basis, so I’ll take the place of a Bible-believing Christian here. What does the Bible say about homosexuality?

“You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.” – Leviticus 18:22

“For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.” – Romans 1:26-27

Other verses also mention homosexuality, but these ones stick out to me the most. We could argue all day about the validity of these and what they actually mean, but we won’t because that has nothing to do with this argument. The Bible seems to make a clear statement: the Lord does not condone a homosexual lifestyle. Thus, most Christians see homosexuality as a sin. What many seem to forget, though, is that they cannot pick and choose their verses out of the Bible; they must also look to the rest of it. So what else does the Bible tell us?

“The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand…But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.” – Romans 14:3-4; 10

Right there in front of us in the exact same book as one of the verses on homosexuality. I believe in God, I believe in the Bible, and I believe a homosexual lifestyle is wrong. But it is not my place to make a judgement on a homosexual–or anyone else for that matter. Judgement belongs to God alone because He is the only one perfect, righteous, and authoritative. Me? I’m just another sinner with a shameful past, a shameful present, and a shameful future. The beauty is that God saved me.

“He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” – Titus 3:5-7

How was I justified? By the grace of Jesus Christ. Is the same grace automatically denied to gays? Is it automatically denied to murderers, compulsive liars, idolaters, adulterers, prostitutes, or the average person who struggles with anger here and there? Of course not!

“For the Scripture says, ‘WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for ‘WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.'” – Romans 10:11-13

I have no place judging the man next to me because he loves another man. I have no place judging my little brother because disobeys my parents. I have no place judging a boy for his porn addiction or a girl for her meth addiction. None of them have any place judging me for my own vices, my own sins, and my own struggles. We are all imperfect sinners, and not one of us deserves the harmful social stigma generated by other imperfect sinners. We do not deserve that judgement. We deserve the judgement of God because He alone has a place to tell us how wretched we truly are.

The apostle Paul makes it abundantly clear in Galatians that we are saved by faith alone, not by good works. He continually reminds the church that taking the law without the gospel is absolutely devastating to the well-being of believers. Christ is the fulfillment of the law. Not you, not me. Whether you are gay or you are straight, you can never measure up to perfection. Fortunately, you don’t have to. This fact means that we cannot forsake grace, love, and fellowship for the sake of legalistic judgement and rules.

So what are we called to do? Do we just let sin go without addressing its prominence in society? No, we don’t. Scripture once again provides the answer.

“This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.” – 1 John 3:23

“The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.” – 2 Timothy 2:24-25

The Bible commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we must reproach those in opposition to the truth, then we do so with gentleness, respect, and understanding. But at all times, we must remember that it is not our place to judge. Only guide. We fool ourselves if we believe that making gay marriage illegal and creating a suicide-inducing stigma against it will make turn homosexuals into heterosexuals. We fool ourselves if we believe that judgement, legalism, and harsh reproach will draw nonbelievers closer to the truth; quite the opposite. Gentleness, love, and complete and total trust in God’s grace–now that sings a message of truth and hope. The message that the gospel actually teaches.

It breaks my heart to see legalism and stigma reach all time highs in my community. I hate to see people get involved in others’ lives when it is none of their business, and then vocally judge them for something. Oftentimes, people will judge others for doing things that are not even prohibited in scripture…so much is just opinion. And that is truly sad.

We are all imperfect and in desperate need of the mercy of God. So let us have faith in grace apart from works and love one another.

Move

2011 fascinated me. It was crazy and full and insane and I hated it, but oh, it was lovely. I saw so much and learned so much and experienced more sugar highs than any person should have the right to experience. I met people and lost people and realized that my life doesn’t revolve around people. I developed an obsession for C.S. Lewis and strengthened my innate hatred for spiders and decided that I don’t have to base my all decisions off of my love and fear.

I did things this year that I never thought I’d do. I never thought I’d begin plans to go to an Ivy League college, but I did. I never thought I’d cry over something that wasn’t extraordinarily devastating, but I did. I never thought I’d stop caring about whether or not I fit into other people’s molds for me, but I did. I never thought I’d learn to be confident without faking my appearance, but I did. I never thought I’d share my story with everyone who listened, but I did. I never thought I’d be okay again, but I was. I am. This year taught me that there are things waiting for me far beyond my fears.

My theme this year was voices, and the impact it had was wonderful. I found my voice, and I’ve watched others find their own voices this year. I’ve seen people open up and grow and realize that they are important, they have a story to share, and no one can tell them that they’re worthless. And the same goes for you. At the end of our speech camp, my coach asked me to share something with the novices about my experience in forensics. So I told them that they have voices now–that they have an opportunity to walk into a room and say whatever they want to at least three people for ten minutes with absolutely no interruptions. And it’s their duty to make that “whatever they want” mean something. Whether or not you compete in speech, you have a voice, too. And it is your gift to say something worth saying.

I’d be lying if I pretended this year was all awesome and wonderful and that I have no complaints. If I’m going to use my voice and be honest, then I have to admit: parts of this year really sucked. The first few months of the year found me depressed, unmotivated, and edgy all the time. May found me fighting so very hard to pick myself up, but constantly being punched in the gut. The summer found me with a new kind of contentment and happiness that I had never felt before, but also with a lot of struggles–internal and external–questions, loneliness, and upsetting days. I was lost a lot and I had no idea where I was going. I was strangely okay with that, though. It felt like freedom. In August, I began making huge changes. I opened up to my parents and a few friends and I accepted healing. I began working hard in ways I can’t explain to overcome my pain and let go. It wasn’t easy. It hasn’t been easy. It’s not easy. But it has been an incredible experience. Since then, things have fluctuated. Some days are good days, some days are bad days. Healing from years of pain and destruction is hard, but ultimately, it is worth every second. And although I’m more vulnerable and susceptible to pain than ever before, I’m okay with that. I’ve grown and learn more this year than ever before. I’ve learned that God can bring beauty from my pain.

But where would I be if I spent the rest of my life healing? What would my life mean if I focused all of it on lifting myself out of depression, myself out of eating struggles, myself out of pain? Absolutely nothing. My life is not about me. This world is not about me, or you, or any of the other billions of people in this world. This world is about God, and I’m His servant. He is not my servant. My purpose in life is not to make myself happy, give myself riches, or to make other people think highly of me. My purpose is to serve God to the best of my abilities.

I guess I’ve learned something on a spiritual and physical level. On the spiritual, I’ve learned what I just described–I am a servant. On the physical, I’ve learned what I already described–there are things waiting beyond my fears. So why do I continue to box myself up and only do the small things that please myself? I don’t know. It’s really rather stupid. And I won’t let that be my purpose this year.

This year, I plan to move. I don’t know what that will be, I don’t know what it will mean to me, and I don’t know what it will mean to anyone else. But I’m going to take steps, take chances, take risks, and go places I never thought I’d go before, do things I never thought I’d do before. I’m going to do big things for a God who has called me to serve Him. I’m going to do big things for the people I love, and the people I’m not so fond of. I’m going to make an impact and live with a purpose. I’m not going to be afraid of death, because I’ll be living up to my full potential every single day.

I’m so excited.

The Heart of a Child

I love Christmas. I love decorations and copious amounts of sugar and family and friends and laughter and presents and Christmas movies and pictures and smiles, and I even tolerate all five thousand country renditions of “Winter Wonderland.” But this year feels sadly unlike Christmas.

Yes, Christmas is more than presents and food. It is family, friends, fun, togetherness, and ultimately, the celebration of the birth of Christ. Although I love all these qualities, I have always seen Christmas as one more thing: childish freedom. And there is such a saddening lack of that this year.

People grow up to fast. Some are forced to because of circumstances in their family, community, or own personal lives. Others do so because they want to appear mature and capable, and they think they can prove their accomplishments in responsibility and authority. Still others don’t even realize how quickly they’re growing up until the day they awaken and realize that childhood has faded away, and all they can clearly see in the future is unwanted hard work. And I hate that. Where’s the passion and enjoyment in that?

I am convinced that if C.S Lewis were alive right now, he and I would be best friends. That fact is rather irrelevant, I suppose, but he did once say profound words that I stumbled across a few weeks ago: “When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

This quotation was like a breath of fresh air when I was feeling so overwhelmed with responsibility one day. In reality, there are few things more precious than embracing childishness.

In the past few weeks, I have claimed more responsibility, work, and pressure than ever before in my life. And yet I have not felt so much like a child in a long time. I have accepted these burdens, per se, because they lead to and fulfill my passions. And passion is such an intrinsic part of childhood. Children get excited over the smallest things, like a piece of paper covered with their very own crayon scribbles. And when they take in a truly magnificent being, they are overwhelmingly enthralled. Do you know or even faintly remember what it is like to be overwhelmed in such a way?

I remember having my fifth birthday party at a little tea and dress up shop for girls. Ladies did the hair and makeup on my friends and me, and we got to choose elaborate dresses and eat tea cakes and fancy (disgusting) cookies. It was incredible to me. The array of dresses, myriad of lipsticks, trays of food, and willingness of women to cater to my every desire struck my mind with awe. I did not think any day would ever surpass it. Perhaps I was right.

I remember going to Williamsburg, Virginia for Christmas when I was ten years old. I have seen few things more beautiful than the enormous Christmas tree displayed in the town square. But I also remember being cold, bored, and thinking that I was far too old and mature to be engaged by a Christmas tree. I complained until we returned to the hotel.

I remember going to Worldview Academy at Point Loma University this summer, and having my devotionals while perched on a ledge that overlooked the Pacific Ocean. One morning, I hardly picked up my Bible or wrote a word in my journal. I was too focused on the magnitude, beauty, and overwhelming nature of the crystal blue water. How could something so huge and so beautiful exist, and only be a minuscule fraction of what constitutes matter? I felt that sense of childlike incredulousness, and it was beautiful.

And yet this year, I see no wonder. I see no happiness. I see no excitement, dreams, laughter, or genuine joy. I see sad and tired faces moping through stores in an attempt to find last minute presents. I hear the words “I’m just trying to get through the holidays” and “I can’t wait until this season is over.” I hear halfhearted a “happy holiday” from the cashier in the store who truly has zero interest in what my holiday is like, but says so out of necessity. It saddens me.

My family recently adopted two dogs. Whenever we come home, one of them begins barking and jumping like he hasn’t seen humans in months, and the other runs rapidly between our legs and looks up at us with her big brown eyes that instantly melt my heart. The family coming home after a short outing is so small and insignificant, yet it means the world to the dogs every time it happens. Why can people never experience that same excitement and joy anymore?

My boyfriend always tells me that I’m most beautiful when I laugh and embrace my childish side. I don’t know about the accuracy of that statement, but it’s sure when I feel the most beautiful. I feel free and confident and happy and beautiful when I let go and open my heart to joy. Part of the reason that we end up sad so often is that we make ourselves so immune to happiness. It seems impossible, so we reject its possibility. And how can happiness infiltrate a heart and mind set on ignoring it? It can’t. Ultimately, it largely has to be a conscious choice that only we can make.

There is so much more than just “getting through the season” this Christmas. I know it’s really hard for some. I know that some are seriously struggling financially and can’t have much of a Christmas at all–but that does not mean happiness is impossible. It’s only impossible if you shut it out and refuse to find it in anything but the miraculous. I know others are experiencing their first Christmas without a loved one. I’m part of that crowd. And although I miss my grandma and grandpa very much, I celebrate this season because I remember how much they adored it. Happiness floods in when we let the good memories add to our lives instead of becoming our lives. And that is when we are like little children, ecstatic at the most trivial yet lovely things.

Don’t let the failings of life or the insistence on fantastical diminish the cheer of the holidays. Don’t grow up too fast and think that childishness is inherently evil, because it is a wonderful thing. Embrace joy, freedom, and happiness–they make you and your life so very beautiful.