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

Cookie-cutter Christians: Why some of us MUST be different

“I’m not like them.”

It’s a common thought I have around big groups of Christian people with a certain personality.

They raise their hands high and say, “Thank you Jesus!” throughout prayer and worship. I partially lift my hands, close my eyes, and silently shed a few tears as I feel the Holy Spirit.

It was at the Spiritual Retreat in October that made me question my abilities to reach the teens in my classes. But God showed me that He will use me for His purpose!
It was at the Spiritual Retreat in October that made me question my abilities to reach the teens in my classes. But God showed me that He will use me for His purpose!

They quote scripture and often pull it into their prayers when praying in front of everyone. I talk to God like He’s my friend, and I suppose I don’t quote scripture to Him because He already knows it.

After my thoughts of, “I’m not like them,” come the thoughts of, “So I must not be as good of a Christian.”

It’s a struggle I’ve had since college. And it’s a false struggle. It’s one that Satan loves to tell me over and over again: “You’re not like them, so you aren’t worthy.”

It hit me recently how incredibly terrible those thoughts are. I know better. I know that God loves me just as much as He loves them, and I know that I don’t have to be like them to be a good person.

But then a seriously disturbing thought hit me like a hurricane: what if some of my students feel the same way? What if I have students who look at some of the “super spiritual” students and staff at school and think, “I’m not like that. I’ll never be like that. So why bother?”

Some conversations with my students this year revealed that some of them have felt that way before.

I knew I needed to say something. God told me I needed to say something. Yes, even though I’m not walking around quoting scripture and raising my hands in worship, I do talk to God. A lot. He gets me. And He knew it had to be said. So on Friday I said it.

The main class I needed to say these things to were my seniors. They’re an interesting bunch. Yes, I teach at a Christian school here in Uganda, but not all of our students are Christian. Many are simply “Christian” only because they’ve been forced to be. There are two boys who don’t even believe in God and have serious issues with Christianity and Christians in general, there is a Hindu girl, some who have a strong faith in God but are not charismatic like a lot of their peers at school, and a few who are.

When I finished sharing, they clapped. That’s a huge thing for this group of ten 12th graders. Their enthusiasm is typically non-existent. But then one of my seniors, who detests most Christians, said, “I just got more from what you said than anything I’ve heard in chapel all year.”

Part of me didn’t want to post that. I don’t want to hurt our chaplain or anyone else who has spoken in chapel. They’ve put their heart and soul into presenting for these kids. However, the fact that he said that completely drives home the point I made to my students: the point they so eagerly accepted and understood.

My overall point was this: Christians are not all the same. We’re not supposed to be.

It’s tough. If the Christians you’re surrounded by all act the same way and that’s just not your personality, it can be discouraging. And from the discussions we had yesterday in class, I discovered that it can be especially discouraging for teens. They think, “I’ll never be like that. That’s just not me to do that or say that.”

And so the next types of thoughts are, “Maybe I’m not a Christian.” Their overly hyped-up Christian classmates also inadvertently make them feel inadequate. They attribute the problem to their “level” of Christianity, when in reality it’s more of a personality difference.

I’m not saying anyone needs to “tone it down” or anything- not students or staff. But the kids who aren’t like that need to know that it’s OK. You can still have an awesome relationship with Christ without being so eccentric.

I also shared with the students the number one way that I’ve shared Christ with people: love. Simply put, love. Love people. Forgive people. Show grace towards people. Have mercy and compassion for people. Love. Love. Love.

I’ve never had someone say to me, “Natalie, thank you for telling me that I need Jesus. It’s made me want to be a Christian.” But I have had people say, “Thank you for loving me and for loving others as unconditionally as possible. I know this is because you’re a Christian, and that helped lead me to Christ.”

 “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” Colossians 3:14-15

We’re different. God wanted us to be different. While Christian organizations tend to be flooded with similar personality types, sometimes you need a misfit like myself who can reach out to the people who are different.

Do your thing. Be the person God created you to be. Be a Christian and be YOU. Don’t change your personality to match those of people who appear to be “better.” God loves us all the same!

“I’m not like them” is a legit statement to make about how I feel when I compare myself to most of my co-workers. Thank God for that. If I was exactly like them, I wouldn’t have reached some of the students God used me to reach yesterday. The same goes for them- God has used those people to reach many students this year as well! God uses ALL of us.

I encourage you to read 1 Corinthians 12:12-26. Part of it says, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.”

I choose to reach people through love and compassion. What works for you? What do you do that brings people to Christ? As long as it does the job, well done! Use your God-given gifts to be a light for Him. And remember, just because you’re not exactly like the Christians around you, that doesn’t mean you aren’t as spiritual or important in the body of Christ. Do your thing. All that matters is what God thinks of you. And He thinks you’re awesome enough that He sent His Son to die on the cross for your sins.

“For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16

A different kind of Valentine’s Day

IMG_20140214_092651I was in the 8th grade when I had my first Valentine’s Day with a boyfriend. His name was Ben, and we were on our second-round of being girlfriend and boyfriend.

“Check your mailbox,” Ben said when I answered the phone.

“Why?” I asked.

“Just do it!” he said, and hung up the phone.

I walked out to the mailbox and opened it up. Inside was a rose, a card, and a small box. The small box contained a necklace. It was the ugliest necklace I’d ever laid eyes on. I can still picture it to this day. It was a gold chain, and on it hung a gold bow with what appeared to be fake opal painted on parts of the bow. It was hideous.

Ben and I didn’t last. Well, we broke up a few weeks later and then got back together a few weeks after that. This happened probably another four times throughout the remainder of my 8th grade year.

Valentine’s Day has ripped me apart some years and other years it’s made me smile. In college we had “S.A.D.” parties on Valentine’s Day- “Single’s Awareness Day” parties. They involved a lot of booze, dancing and some poor choices. That was ten years ago, and I must say, my feelings about this day have changed drastically.

This is my first Valentine’s Day in Africa, and I feel like it’s the first year I’m truly aware of what Valentine’s Day should be about: love.

When I think about it, Valentine’s Day could easily be a Christian holiday. Do you remember the story from the Bible about the religious leaders asking Jesus which commandment was most important? His response was this:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Mark 12:30-31

For Christians, showing love isn’t something we should just be doing on Valentine’s Day. Showing love is what God wants us to do every single day.

IMG_20140214_092810We also need to take note of the fact that Jesus wasn’t specific about which neighbors we should love. He didn’t say to love our Christian neighbors. He didn’t say to love our American neighbors. He didn’t say to love our straight neighbors or our Caucasian neighbors or our neighbors who don’t do drugs. There are no footnotes in the Bible when it says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” God wants us to love our neighbors, the very people He created, no matter what their situation, race, or sexual orientation is.

Not everyone is easy to love. I know this. I’m a teacher, and I’ve had more than 1,000 students cross my path over the years. They haven’t all been easy to love. But what better way to be a witness for Christ than to love everyone?

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
John 13:34-35

I have a student right now who some teachers might find difficult. He knows he’s difficult, but I tell him on IMG_20140214_092929almost a daily basis that I love him. He’s told me that he doesn’t understand why. It perplexes him how I could possibly love him given some of his behavior. This student is also an atheist. What if I didn’t show him love? What kind of an example for Christ would I be if I didn’t love him?

Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be about romantic love. It can be about the love we have for all the people of the earth. It’s easy to remember the importance of love as I sit here in Uganda, surrounded by people who were strangers to me seven months ago and are now people I love with all my heart.

Don’t feel sad if you don’t have a “Valentine” on February 14. God loves you more than any Valentine ever could. And if you love Him back, you’ll show love to everyone around you.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
1 Corinthians 12:4-8

“Marriage sucks!”

Years ago I went out to eat with a male friend not long after the end of a relationship. It wasn’t just the end of IMG_1674any relationship, it was the end of a relationship in which after our first date I called my mom in tears and said, “This one is different. This is different.” And it was after our second date that my gut told me: he was “the one.”

I knew he felt the same way, because only a month or so into our relationship he told me, I remember exactly when and where and the tone of his voice, “I can’t wait to make you my wife someday.”

He never did make me his wife. In reality, he isn’t sure he ever even wants to get married. This was all made evident when we broke up. I was heartbroken and confused as ever.

But on a cold January night when I was out to eat with my friend, everything became clear.

We ran into three of my ex’s best friends. His “boys.” The guys he talks to on a regular basis. All of them are married.

Somehow my friend and I ended up at a table with these guys, and we got to talking about marriage.

“Marriage sucks!” one of them said. “I love my wife and family, but being married sucks!”

“I’m so sick of having to constantly report to her,” one of them said. “It’s terrible. I’m a grown man! I can do what I want!”

One of the guys kept pretty quiet, but did chime in at one point after one of the other guys said, “Women are crazy. Hands down. They’re all CRAZY.” He piped up and said, “Did you ever think that maybe we make them that way?”

The conversation shed so much light on marriage for me. Men hate marriage. As one of the guys said, “Marriage sucks!” No wonder my ex wasn’t excited about the idea of getting married to anyone- most of his friends and a lot of society tell us that marriage isn’t a wonderful thing. It isn’t about love and companionship; it’s more like a prison sentence.

I remembered that conversation from years ago after last week watching an online sermon called, “The New Rules for Love, Sex and Dating,” presented by Andy Stanley. He mentioned something about the “good side of marriage that no one ever talks about.” And I realized he was right- we rarely hear the good stories or what people love about being married.

While I was raised by a happily married couple, my parents, I realized I still kind of have a skewed view of marriage based on what I’ve heard, been through, and seen in society. I decided to turn to Facebook for inspiration. Marriage is a GOOD thing, and I knew there would have to be people who had good things to say about marriage and about their spouses. I ended up with so many responses that I can’t list them all, but here are some of my favorites.

IMG_5166These quotes come from people married for a few months to many years, Christians and non-Christians, men and women, and people from all sorts of walks of life. I hope these words encourage people who are married and those like me who are still waiting on their match:

“The love he has for me and the boys just goes to extraordinary levels when someone is sick or hurt…”

“I love knowing that she has my back in any and all situations, and even though I am her rock, she will be mine when I start to doubt myself. She will also be there to bring me back down to earth (when I need it).”

“I love being married for all the normal reasons that everyone gives, but the best reason is knowing that you never have to date again! No more awkward first kisses, dates, conversations, none of that. It’s nice to know someone loves you and has seen everything and willing to be there. For me, there’s comfort in the predictable.”

“I love that he vacuums the house and takes care of the car when it needs oil or fixing!”

“I love that God has one special person for me and that putting God first in our marriage helped our love grow and our relationship become what it is today. After almost 30 years of marriage, he can look at me and warm my heart. I still love holding hands and just being with him. And now, I love spending time with our beautiful family that was brought together through God’s love and grace. Being married isn’t always easy, but the rewards are great.”

“Just love the relationship we’ve molded over the years, great communication and understanding, the love, loyalty and respect that we have for each other. Being the young couple, people do doubt us, but it makes us stronger.”

“He knows what I am thinking or how I feel, sometimes even before I realize it myself!”

“I just love that I am with my best friend, day in and day out!”wedding5

“Love having history together. He knows why I react a certain way, because he knows the experiences that have shaped me. Also love being exposed to new things. Without (him), I would never have gone winter camping, on canoe trips, learned about identifying birds, etc.”

“I love that, when needed, you can take turns being the strong one.”

“I love that we’re on the same page about life. Where we are and where we’d like to be 10 years from now.”

“I like being married (to my husband) because I LIKE HIM. I like doing stuff with him- any kind of stuff. I like going to Home Depot and looking at faucets. I like going to the grocery store. I like going out to eat with him. I like riding down the road and talking non-stop… I just like him.”

“I love that he is my warrior. He has a heart of gold and is willing to do anything for me. He is willing to fight for me and my freedom, daily. We have our own dreams and goals, but we also have dreams and goals as a couple. I also love the little texts that he sends me every day, just to say hi.”

“I love that if he is home before me, at the end of the day I walk in the door and he will say, “Is that the love of my life?”

“I love that sometimes we can just sit in silence and just hold onto each other. It’s so powerful to know that someone gets you and sees your good and your bad and loves you anyways!”

“I love being with my best friend. I love that he is a man of God, and that we make each other better people. I love that he is such a wonderful leader and protector for our family.”

28309_396535656572_5388461_n“Sorry, it’s not just one thing. Companionship, the joy (she) brings to our marriage, and her many acts of kindness.”

“In my marriage, there is unconditional love. I was completely sighted and in good health when we married eight years ago. Since that time, we have encountered a rare eye disorder that is stealing my sight, and I’ve had to battle rare health issues (for my age). My husband married me, never knowing he would face these issues with me and that his wife would become visually impaired… My husband has sacrificed his own desires to satisfy mine and has shown me unconditional love. Simply put, he has honored his marital vows.”

“I love that my husband’s not perfect, because neither am I, and that makes us perfect for each other.”