A checklist of love

heart-283146_1920I’m going to make this simple.

Who you should love (in no particular order, with the exception of the first one):

  • God
  • your family
  • your friends
  • your neighbors
  • co-workers (even the annoying ones)
  • Donald Trump
  • Barack Obama
  • NFL players who kneel
  • NFL players who stand
  • Tom Brady (ugh)
  • black people
  • white people
  • Hispanic people (etc. etc. You get the idea)
  • Jesse Jackson
  • Stacey Dash
  • Kathy Griffin
  • Rush Limbaugh
  • Christians
  • Muslims
  • Atheists
  • Agnostics (etc. etc.)
  • people who cut in line
  • Gay people
  • Straight people
  • Transgender people
  • the CBS Exec with no sympathy for the victims in Las Vegas
  • your ex wife/husband
  • gang members
  • homeless people
  • CEO’s who make millions
  • racists
  • felons
  • Republicans
  • Democrats
  • Conservatives
  • Liberals
  • People who don’t love you back
  • Anyone with a pulse

gaudi-2574889_1920Why you should love everyone on the above list (please read the first one multiple times, I didn’t make it up, it was JESUS who said that):

  • “But LOVE YOUR ENEMIES, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.” Luke 6:35
  • “We love because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19
  • “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31
  • “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Romans 13:10
  • “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Ephesians 4:2
  • “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8
  • “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” 1 John 4:7
  • “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8

In the words of Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.” (Well, for today anyways…)

This love thing goes both ways

heart-700141_640She’s at it again. For the sake of anonymity, I’ll refer to her as “Alice.”

Alice is a nightmare, especially for someone in charge of the image of the organization she targets.

Alice, one of the loudest naysayers of the nonprofit I work for, got on her pedestal last week to alert her friends and family that she doesn’t support the work we do. Instead of seeing us as a solution to helping the homeless, she sees us as a problem.

You see, although the organization I work for has worked with the homeless for more than 100 years in our community, she’s read some articles about homelessness. She knows best. Not only that, but she loves old buildings. It appears she loves them more than people.

I shouldn’t care as much as I do, but I do. It makes my blood boil. The way she inaccurately portrays my employer, the way she talks about homeless people as if they were animals, the way she has not an ounce of compassion for the homeless and talks about how they “infest” downtown as if they were rodents… it kills me.

Where is her grace? Where is her compassion? Where is her heart? Does she not know that Christ was VERY clear about loving people, ESPECIALLY the poor?

And then it hit me.

If Christ truly calls us to love everyone, that means I have to love HER. I have to show HER grace. I have to have compassion for HER.

Love and grace are great when people give it to us. But it sure is a pain when we have to dish it out for someone else, someone we feel doesn’t deserve it.

From what I’ve been told, Alice is a Christian. “Yeah right,” is my first thought. How can that be? She claims to love Jesus, but yet she’s running around talking trash about a Christian organization that helps the homeless?

After I had that thought, I almost literally felt the Holy Spirit tap me on the shoulder and ask me about a few un-Christian-like things in my life. And yet I claim to be a Christian.

The thing is, Alice doesn’t deserve love and grace from me. But I also don’t deserve love and grace from Christ, and yet He gives it to me every single day. Every. Single. Day.

If I’m going to go around preaching that we’re to love our neighbors, ALL our neighbors, and if I openly accept God’s love and grace for me even though sometimes I’m a terrible Christ follower, I have to love Alice. I have to have compassion for her.

Ugh. That’s just how it is. We’re supposed to be a representation of Christ. Christ loves Alice. I can’t say that this will happen overnight. I’m still human, I still have human emotions that take over when Alice, and a select few others, say terrible things about the people in this community facing a homeless crisis.

But I’m going to try to show Alice some compassion.

This love thing goes both ways. It means loving the people we don’t want to love. It means Alice should love the homeless. It means I should love Alice.

“Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
1 Corinthians 13:13

 

 

 

A breakup of a different kind…

broken-heart-pic-1150866My first breakup was in 8th grade. It was short and to the point.

“Andy don’t wanna go out with you no more.” Click.

My boyfriend of four days (we had started “going together” at Friday’s football game) had his best friend call me after school on Monday to give me the bad news.

It hurt, but I managed. Little did I realize that I’d go through so many other breakups, too many to count, and that they’d increasingly get more difficult.

I’ve been through breakups that I initiated. I’ve been through breakups where I was flat out dumped. I’ve been through a breakup where I considered a restraining order. I’m 35. I’ve been dating since I was 16. I’ve seen my fair share of breakups.

 

Breakups as an adult are especially difficult. It’s not mature to take to Facebook and announce how your feeling or what happened, and if you’re like me, your “relationship status” isn’t visible on Facebook anyway. But if you’ve often posted pictures of the two of you doing life together, and all of a sudden they stop… some people do notice. And some bold people even ask, “Are you two still together?”

And then what? You don’t want to lie, but you also don’t want to get into what happened. Unless…. well, unless you do because you want people to know that your love story was beautiful, but God had something else in mind for the future.

My mom will read this and probably call me before she’s finished reading, just to say, “Why are you putting your business out there? Does everyone really need to know about your breakup?” My answer is, “Because I’m a writer. It’s what I do. And because I want to share how this breakup, the toughest of my entire life by a long shot, hasn’t completely destroyed me.”

Nearly three weeks ago, my boyfriend and I broke up. We’d been together for a year. One blissful, amazing, out-of-this-world year. All the while, we both knew there was something that could eventually end our love story.

He loves me. I love him. There was no falling out or fight. We still love each other, but there are three boys in Iowa who need his love more than I do. Him moving to be with his sons, because he wants to be a good father, just makes me love him more.

Although he’s doing the right thing, it was a devastating decision for the both of us. Two people who love each other, who had a virtually flawless relationship, who put God first, who had just spent a year together, could no longer be together. Our hearts were ripped to shreds. No one had done anything wrong. No one had been unfaithful. It was just time for things to be over.

I remember when he first told me he loved me. It was in September, about four months into dating. It was the most meaningful and beautiful moment of my life that I had ever experienced with a man. I knew I was all in after that. This man was unlike any other man. I was right there with him, and I had no hesitation in saying it back. But that night, when I went to bed and said my prayers, I told God, “Thank you for sending me such a wonderful man. I love him so much. But God, I love you more. I will always love you more.”

I prayed that every single night after that. And it has made all the difference in the world. I have a peace about this breakup. I know God has a plan for each of us. I have faith that God knows what He’s doing because He has NEVER steered me wrong.

So did we breakup, hug, and then I skipped away into the sunset? Not on your life. I cried, he cried, and to be honest, I still cry every night because my heart hurts. I miss him more than I’ve ever missed anyone in my entire life. I still hold onto hope that maybe God is just breaking us apart for a few years and down the road we’ll end up back together. I’m still going through all the grieving that is involved in a breakup.

But it’s different this time. It’s unlike all the other breakups.

Why?

God.

I’ve always had God. He was there when I went through all my other breakups. But I ignored Him during most of those relationships. Having Him at the center of my life while also being madly in love with someone made all the difference in the world.

A person cannot be the center of your universe.

I repeat: a person cannot be the center of your universe. Not your boyfriend. Not your husband. Not even your children. (Check out Matthew 10:37) People are flawed. People are selfish. People will leave you, either by choice or by death. You have one being in this world who will NEVER leave you. And that’s God. He is the only safe choice to put at the center of your universe.

That’s made all the difference in this relationship and breakup. It’s actually made all the difference in every single part of my life. I trust God has a plan. Sometimes His plan involves pain, but it’s always for the best of the “big picture,” which we don’t always see.

This breakup has been so different for a number of reasons. It’s breaking my heart in a way it’s never been broken,  but I’m OK. I’m not destroyed. I’m certainly not interested in dating again for a very, very long time (if ever), but that’s OK. Finding a guy isn’t what life is all about.

“And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

His purpose. Not mine. I trust He has something amazing planned for me that I can’t even imagine. He’s proved that to me time and time again.

 

And then came Giving Tuesday

It really is fabulous that we shove our way through Black Friday sales, click “Purchase Now” over and over again on Cyber Monday, and THEN we have Giving Tuesday. It’s like saying, “OK if you have any money left, why not give it to help someone less fortunate?”

I just find it a little backwards that we have Giving Tuesday AFTER we’ve spent money on gifts for people who probably don’t need anything we’ve purchased them. Maybe Giving Tuesday should be BEFORE Thanksgiving?

I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty about anything. It actually really irritates me when I see that being done.

The other day someone posted something about being appalled that none of his Facebook friends donated to his food drive, and he implied that no one cared about the homeless in our community. I immediately took offense to it (I tend to be sensitive about that kind of thing). Just because someone doesn’t give to your cause, doesn’t mean they aren’t giving to another cause. I do my best to give of my time and money, but we can’t give to everything. We just can’t.

However, if you are looking to give this holiday season aren’t sure where to donate, here are a few organizations that I have experience with, and I have seen first hand that they are doing great things in the name of Jesus.

12017597_10153015984556573_9042627776706687868_oDestiny Rescue: In September I went to Thailand where I visited three rescue homes and two prevention homes. This organization is real and legit, and they are making major strides in ending child trafficking in places like Southeast Asia. I’ve spent time with girls who had been trafficked, and I’ve seen how Destiny Rescue uses God’s love to change their lives.

208280_10150151374051573_8138803_nFood for the Hungry:  Many years ago my church began a partnership with Food for the Hungry. Food for the Hungry is so much more than just child sponsorship, and I got to see it with my own two eyes in 2011 when I went to Nicaragua. The organization truly transforms communities, as they commit to them for long periods of time. Your sponsorship does more than help feed a child, it changes the lives of people in an entire village.

1012685_10151453429291573_1152998984_nLifesong for Orphans: Lifesong will always be near and dear to my heart. In 2013 I experienced the work of Lifesong Zambia, and it was one of my favorite mission trips. They are yet another God-centered organization doing great things for the poor in many nations.

1978758_10151969816186573_1983580348_nNakalanda Project: When I lived in Uganda, every month we would go by bus, then boat, then boda out to the village of Nakalanda on an island in Lake Victoria. We would help our friends Stephanie and Rev. Stephen hold their jigger clinics for the local community. But Stephanie and Stephen have done so much more than just jigger clinics in Nakalanda. They, like other organizations I have mentioned, are truly working hard to transform an entire community. They are also two of the greatest people I have ever met!

blog_headerThe Esther School: While I have been to Zambia, I’ve never been to The Esther School, but I can say that it is in good hands with the Costley family. Wayne Costley, who I taught with at Heritage International School in Kampala, Uganda, is the headmaster at this Christian day school in Zambia. Your donations to support the Costley family would be put to good use, as I know the wonderful and selfless hearts of Wayne and Allison and their two beautiful daughters.

Of course, my hope is that you’ll find an organization or missionary to support on a regular basis, but I hope you’ll at least find somewhere to donate today on Giving Tuesday. Maybe it’s not supporting international missions, maybe it’s taking box of food to your local food bank or some winter coats to a homeless shelter. Maybe it’s spending time with a friend who needs some spiritual guidance and support.

Giving is giving, and it’s always a beautiful thing.

However you choose to give, I pray you’ll do it in the name of Jesus. After all, it’s His birthday that causes all this excitement every December.

“He who is generous will be blessed,
for he gives some of his food to the poor.”
Proverbs 22:9

The perfect way to make things worse

I blasted Janet Jackson’s “Again” in my headphones as I cried myself to sleep night after night after my first traumatic heartbreak, which came in the 8thsad-silhouette-1080946-m grade. I was mad at Ben. Mad at Bob. More than anything, I was mad at myself. I gave up a deep love with Ben for one passionate night of hand-holding with Bob at the YMCA lock-in. What I didn’t expect was Ben to show up to play basketball at the YMCA while I was holding hands with Bob, the cute guy from a neighboring town.

It was super dramatic. I remember running away from them both and bawling my eyes out in the locker room, surrounded by my friends who were trying to help me decide who I really “loved.” At the time it was the toughest decision I’d ever had to make: Bob or Ben?

In the end, it didn’t matter. Bob never wrote me a letter (the main way you communicated with your out-of-town boyfriend in 1994), and Ben wanted nothing more to do with me. I was heartbroken. Nothing had ever hurt more. My world came crashing down at the precious age of 14.

Obviously, this was but a grain of sand compared to the sandstorm of broken hearts I would experience later in life, but I really didn’t need to know that. I needed to grieve. As silly and insignificant the situation was to my life, I needed to be upset. You could have told me that it was a Junior High relationship, and that it was not a significant problem to worry about, but I wouldn’t have believed you.

f343c71f67ffa4bcfec8e4d37cccd994On Facebook a few months ago I saw a comparison of love memes and military photos. On top was a meme, no doubt created by a heartbroken high school girl whose boyfriend just dumped her. Phrases like, “When he’s all you can think about…” and “Being lonely is the worst feeling in the world,” accompanied by a photo of a sad girl by a tree or a lake or some other dramatic, lonely location. On the bottom of each was a photo that put the statement in perspective. A woman at the grave of her husband who was killed in war. A soldier wounded millions of miles away from home.

Ouch. Excellent point. Excellent perspective. I totally get it.

But there’s a time and a place for perspective. In general, this post going around Facebook had a wonderful point. However, if someone was suffering from heartache at the time and someone sent this to them to offer a little “perspective,” I think that’s incredibly insensitive.

Why force guilt onto people who are already struggling with something else? Not only that, but why tell people that what they are feeling isn’t valid, that things could “always be worse”?

When you’re upset or brokenhearted, the last thing you need added onto it is guilt. And yet I see it often. It’s basically non-sympathetic, forced guilt. It’s something people throw around way too often, in my opinion.

I’m quick to jump to the defense of the oppressed. I’ll open your eyes to the terrible living conditions I’ve seen in Nicaragua, Niger, Zambia, Uganda, and Kenya. I’ll give you a million reasons why your day wasn’t as bad as it was for most of the people in the world, but I try to make sure I don’t do it often, and I certainly won’t do it when you’re having a bad day or going through something that’s already hurting your heart.

I understand that we do have a responsibility to “keep it real” for our friends and families. Life isn’t flowers and butterflies all the time, and sometimes we have to speak up.

But… not always. There’s a time and a place for it.

Heartache is heartache. To put a degree of hurt on heartache is absurd, to me. You don’t know what that person is feeling or going through, to suggest that things could be worse or that it’s really not a big deal is incredibly insensitive and uncompassionate.

Can we just allow people to feel? Can we stop telling people that their feelings are invalid? If you can’t come up with a comforting word for someone who is having a tough time, or you feel their feelings really are exaggerated and ridiculous, don’t say anything at all. Don’t guilt them into feelings by reminding them in any way that, “things could be worse” or “others have it much worse than you do.” It doesn’t help.

Don’t agree with me? I think the Bible makes it pretty clear:

“Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15

Africa destroyed me, and for that I am thankful.

IMG_4864It’s been nine months, and I am just now figuring out what to say to people about my time in Uganda. What’s ironic about that is that no one is asking anymore. In a few months I’ll have been home longer than I was there.

But just because no one is asking doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be thinking about it. To be honest, I think about Uganda every single day. I often have dreams about Uganda, whether it’s that I’m riding a boda through downtown Kampala or teaching my students back at Heritage. It’s true what they say: once you experience Africa, it will always be a part of you.

But aside from all the good times and unforgettable experiences… Africa destroyed me. Not only because of the poverty and suffering I saw- I’d already seen that in Niger, Zambia and Nicaragua. God sent me to Uganda to be personally and spiritually destroyed, torn to pieces, ripped to shreds. And He did it because He loves me.

IMG_0318I needed to be destroyed. There was no true way to piece me back together, into what God wanted me to be, without destroying me first. So He did what He had to do. He allowed Africa to destroy me.

Somehow God used me in other ways while I was there. He used me to be a friend to people, a mentor to students, a feet washer at the jigger clinic, a tub scrubber and a window washer at the baby home. I actually find it quite amazing that He had the ability to allow Africa to destroy me, continue to use me for His glory, and put me back together as a new person, all at the same time

If your life seems a mess, if you’re feeling defeated, remember that God is still at work. He will do whatever it takes to make you the person He wants you to be. I know I still have growing to do, as we all do, but looking back on my year in Africa, and looking at who I am today, I am eternally grateful that I was destroyed in Uganda.

Thank you, God, for loving me enough to destroy me and then put me back together.

“Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
His understanding is beyond measure.”
Psalm 147:5

Life is not a word search… stop looking for love!

I was just starting to dig into my adult mac-and-cheese when the 23-year-old sitting across from me sighed.

“I just don’t know where to go to meet a guy. I’ve tried church, the gym, the bar scene, everywhere! I can’t find anyone!”

I remember being in her shoes. I remember that ten years ago I used to feel the same way. Almost everything I did was in hopes of meeting a guy. My friends were getting married, starting families, and all that other stuff you’re “supposed” to do in your early to mid-20’s, and then there was me: single.

Ten years later, and that’s still me: single. But oh-so-much has changed.magnifying-glass-967211-m

My young friend’s frustrations with being single reminded me of how so many women are missing the boat on finding love. We can’t force it to happen, and we certainly can’t live our lives constantly in search of it. Life isn’t some giant crossword puzzle where we’re all looking for the word, “Love.”

“They” say when you stop looking, that’s when you’ll find love. While that hasn’t happened for me yet, it’s not changing the fact that I live life for other reasons now. I don’t do anything simply to meet a guy. And I’m completely ok if it hasn’t “paid off” yet in the form of a boyfriend or husband.

When I was in my 20’s, practically everything I did was in hopes of meeting someone. Not just any someone, but someone who would transform my life, make me happy, and give me butterflies! I tried different churches, joined the gym, went to trivia nights at the local pub, joined a “Christian Single’s Group” in town, etc. etc.

Obviously, nothing came of any of that.

And why would it? No guy wants some chick who is spending her entire life waiting on him. Guys want a woman who is living her own life, without him, because he’s likely been doing the same without her.

I go to church now because I want to stay close to God and learn more about His word. I go to the gym to work out because I know it’s good for me. I watch football at Buffalo Wild Wings because I love football (and wings!). I volunteer at the homeless shelter because I love helping people- not because I hope there will be a cute, single guy volunteering with me.

Single ladies- just live your life! Stop looking for something that you can’t make appear. You can’t rush God. He won’t bring the right guy into your life until HE says it’s time. So in the meantime, why not love the life you have? God has lots of great things planned for you. If you’re living in His will, He won’t let you miss out on that perfect guy because you were too busy and not looking.

sand-heart-2-1421655-m“If it seems slow in coming, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.”
Habakkuk 2:3

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”
Psalm 27:14

“Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
Psalm 37:3-4