Monday, April 11, 2011

God as a Romantic



What images come to mind when you think of "our Father?" I image a big man sitting on his throne in Heaven, Jesus who died for us on the cross, or the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in healings and miracles. From the conversations I've had with friends and family, these are pretty typical images, probably not far from what you imagine.

There is nothing wrong with these images, but I think there is something special about understanding how incredibly personal each person's relationship with our Lord truly is. I would like to suggest a small change in perspective on your relationship with the Father Almighty.

To put it simply, it's a love story.

One Sunday at my home church, the priest used the song "I Will Follow Him" by Little Peggy March to express how the Lord never stops pursing us and how we in return should never stop following him and working on our relationship with Him. In case you're not familiar with oldies, you can listen to it here.

Ever since that sermon, I have developed a tendency to imagine how pop songs and corny movie lines could relate to my faith. It may be a little off the beaten path, but that doesn't phase me. Actually, it has turned out to be much simpler than I imagined.

I guess here is where I should confess that I'm a sucker for chick flicks. They aren't always realistic, but they make me happy, give me a glimmer of hope, and provide great material for this topic. These 'romantic quotes' were written for the man and woman in the film, but they are crystal clear pictures of the passion, love, and desire our Lord has for each and every one of us.

Imagine these lines being spoken by the Lord to you, instead of to the lovely characters in the movies.

"So it’s not gonna be easy. It’s gonna be really hard. We’re gonna have to work at this every day, but I want to do that because I want you. I want all of you, for ever, you and me, every day. Will you do something for me, please? Just picture your life for me? 30 years from now, 40 years from now? What’s it look like? If it’s with him, go. Go! I lost you once, I think I can do it again. If I thought that’s what you really wanted. But don’t you take the easy way out." ~The Notebook~
Our relationship with Jesus certainly isn't easy. With all the temptations in our materialistic world, it is painfully easy to lose track of what is actually important. It's hard work. It's not always 'fun.' But when I think of my life 40 years from now, 62-year-old me still relies on the Lord to bring her strength in her weakness, joy in the sorrow, healing when there is pain, and hope when all seems lost. I know that God will never stop loving me, never stop pursuing me. I also know that it is a decision to have a relationship with Him. It is a two-way street and although the relationship is different from that of Noah and Allie in The Notebook, we can certainly relate to that kind of passionate, overwhelming love.

"My heart is, and always will be, yours." ~Sense and Sensibility~
It says in Jeremiah 1:5 ""Before I formed you in the womb I knew you" and before he created you he loved you. The Lord loves us like no one else can. He gives us His absolute, perfect, unconditional love despite our flaws, our sins, our weaknesses. There is nothing we can do to separate ourselves from that love. His heart will always long for us. Always. That, if you ask me, is about as romantic as it gets.

"I like you very much. Just as you are." ~Bridget Jones's Diary~

The Lord created us the way we are on purpose. Our funny quirks, unique traits, the thing that makes you you, was created intentionally. So of course He loves us the way we are -- that's what he meant to do! So don't try to change, don't try imitate someone else. The Lord who is absolutely crazy about you likes you for you.

"If I want to share the rest of my life with you, I've got to ask you now." ~Runaway Bridge~

Have you ever felt convicted? You know that feeling when your conscience is clearly telling you something? Have you had an experience that felt like God's doing? Have you had a desire to improve, to grow, to nuture your relationship with God? Those feelings are without a doubt Jesus speaking to you. The Lord wants to spend not only our time on Earth in a special relationship, but all eternity. He will always ask us to give our hearts, our minds, and our bodies to Him. It will always be "now" that He is asking. And when we say "no" or say "yes" and then pull back, God will return yet again to ask us kindly, bravely, sweetly, and convincingly, "Do you love me? Will you spend your life with me? I love you."

"You will never know love unless you surrender to it." ~Fools Rush In~

I don't know about you, but I find it much, much easier to be an outside observer when it comes to love than to be the one who takes the risk, jumps in head first, and puts my heart on the line. Maybe that's why I love romantic comedies so much. Nevertheless, the love that is 'much easier to observe' is not only the mushy man and woman love that you see holding hands, hugging, smiling, and gazing into each others' eyes. It is the love that is seen in worship, in prayer, in healings, in miracles. Falling in love is an amazing experience -- but it is also a little scary. Falling in love with a man is quite an adventure, but falling in love with my creator? The Alpha and the Omega? The beginning and the end? The King of Kings and Lord of Lords? Oh my...I think I need to sit down. Falling in love with the most perfect one of all would be the most fabulous, exciting, breathtaking and joy creating time of. my. life.

I think I am finally ready. I'm ready to start to love and be loved. To praise and worship the one that my heart yearns for. I'm ready to start living my own love story.

Are you?


Monday, April 4, 2011

We can do it! Or can we?


During World War II, this iconic image represented the women at home supporting the homefront war effort while their husbands and sons were fighting overseas. Women developed a new sense of independence and pride as they took over "men's jobs" and worked to keep the nation running smoothly while also caring for their families. It's actually pretty impressive.

Then, in the 1960s the feminist movement swept over the nation...and is still moving. I find the argument for women's rights to be uniquely complicated. Women certainly still face some discrimination in the workplace, but women have also achieved greatness, equivalent to men.

For example, take a look at some of corporate America's incredible female leaders. The following women are all CEOs of their organizations.

1. Brenda Barnes, Sara Lee
2. Carol Bartz, Yahoo
3. Angela Braly, WellPoint
4. Lynn Elsenhans, Sunoco
5. Andrea Jung, Avon Products
6. Ellen Kullman, DuPont
7. Ursula Burns, Xerox
8.  Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo
9. Irene Rosenfeld, Kraft Foods
10. Laura Sen, BJ's Wholesale

I think that women have made substantial progress in the area of equal rights. It is acceptable for women to have a career or focus on their families or do both! The independent women is no longer frowned upon across the U.S., although some still maintain the philosophy that women should stay in the home.
Now, I feel that there is a different battle that we must face as women. We are pressured to meet a double standard. Women who are too strong-willed and confident are seen as 'masculine' rather than as incredible women. Women who do not fit society's definition of beauty are overwhelmed with insecurity issues. The media tells us to be independent, society wants us to be homemakers. Corporate America tells women to continue to rise in the ranks, but statistics show that children with stay-at-home moms perform much better in school. Facts show us that two salaries will provide more for our children, but religious teachings emphasize that money is not important.

Here is a little taste of the issues you can see by watching television:

In the most recent cycle of America's Next Top Model (which includes a whole slew of issues on its own), the women acted in a commercial set during the Mad Men era, when secretaries were not allowed to actually provide their ideas or participate in the development of new campaigns. The script directs the women to use mildly sexual behavior, innuendos, and play up their looks in order to catch their boss's attention and help him to come up with a new ad campaign.


AdAge posted the following commercial as Hispanic Advertising Creative award winner. Objectively it is creative and memorable, and if you don't think too hard, perhaps even funny. Unfortunately, there is just a little too much truth in this commercial about the standards of beauty in our society.


I do not think that women will feel that they have truly achieved gender equality until these expectations change. As long as celebrities, music artists, and so on continue to support the stereotype, we will be waiting to see this change come about.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Reconciliation

Reconciliation is a powerful, wonderful, and precious gift. All too often we take this daily renewed blessing for granted. During my spring break, I spent a week in East St. Louis with about 150 other college students in InterVarsity, volunteering in the community to reconcile the immense differences that caused huge chasms within the community, even between neighbors.

Merriam-Webster provides the following definitions for the verb reconcile:

  • to restore to friendship or harmony; settle; resolve
  • to make consistent or congruous
  • to cause to submit or to accept something unpleasant
  • to check against another for accuracy; to account for

From what I can gather, these definitions have direct connections with the Bible's teachings. In fact, they practically yell "listen to Jesus!"

How? Take a look at the words in the definitions: "friendship", "harmony", "accept", and "account."

The Bible teaches us to love our neighbors, to be a friend to the friendless, to accept and love others as God loves us all, and to hold ourselves accountable for our thoughts, words, and actions and humbly ask for forgiveness when we fall short.

Are you with me now? Reconciliation is absolutely necessary in our lives, in our communities, in our world.


The only problem is, if you read this in the way I intended, the idea of reconciliation probably gave you that warm fuzzy feeling, maybe even a little burst of "I'm going to change the world" oomph. It's a wonderful feeling, don't get me wrong. I absolutely love understanding what I can do to make the world a better place. Unfortunately, I tend to look for ways that don't require me to step more than a couple feet outside my comfort zone. As long as the situations are familiar, but just a little more unfortunate, a little less pretty, a little more complicated...then I'm okay.


It is the painful truth for most of us. More painful than this truth, however, is understanding that there are many, many people who need love, care, and support; who need to hear the Good News and come to understand the Lord's unconditional love for them -- and these people, we do not help.


And why not? Does this make us 'bad Christians'? I don't think that is necessarily true, but I do believe that we are trying to pull a bit of a Jonah, running away from God's call to us to clothe the naked and feed the hungry.


How do you expect to reconcile differences in your community if you don't go out into the areas that are actually different? If the people you aim to help are more or less like you, with minor differences, then you really aren't reconciling any differences at all. You are helping those who are just like you.

So now what? What is the "next step"? How does one truly reach out to those in need? To those who are different? How do I find the places that call out for God's love and genuine human care? And for the women who might read this, how do I balance helping those in unsafe or dangerous neighborhoods without putting myself into compromising, unsafe, or dangerous situations? How do we know when should we rely on God to keep us safe and when He wants us to use our common sense to protect ourselves from harm?


I think that these are all valid questions. I wish I had an answer. Every time I return from a service project or mission trip these questions come up and I mull them over in my mind. I have yet to resolve the internal conflict, but I know one thing for sure -- none of the answers are in black and white.


Our world today is colored in various shades of gray: from black to charcoal, from slate to silver, from ash to white. There is no definitive answer, but I strongly believe that having these questions and keeping an open heart and mind while praying on them leads to understanding. It is through that understanding that we may be equipped to go out into the world and be the eyes, the hands, the feet, and the heart of Jesus to all those around us.


Complete reconciliation will only come in Heaven, but for now I am pleased to be one of many working and praying to share a little piece of Heaven with those of us still living on Earth.