Stairway to Heaven

Tonight I stood in a stairwell packed full of college students pouring out praise to our good Father.

What a beautiful moment.

In less than 24 hours, 170+ GenSend missionaries hailing from across the country will be sent out to their respective cities for six weeks of sharing hope with those they meet.

How wonderful, terrifying, humbling, inspiring, empowering, strength-giving it is to know that a holy God uses His broken, sinful children to reach those His heart seeks to adopt?

I asked myself that question over and over as I listened to the talents of my peers fill that Phoenix stairway.

How beautiful, comforting, peace-bringing it is to be filled with the Spirit of God Himself as we move forward in taking true life and love to these communities?

I remind myself of this question when fear and doubt fight to take over my mind and heart.

May we always worship as loudly, as beautifully, as rawly as that group in the stairwell.

I so badly wish you could’ve been there.

So much so, I feel like I just have to share it.

It is my prayer that all the GenSend students, my team and myself keep ourselves in that mindset: how can we keep this beautiful, life-giving Truth to ourselves?

I pray that we find ourselves filled with the same boldness of Spirit that flowed through Peter and John in Acts 4, that the love we’ve been freely given through Christ is shared without expectation of reward.

This will look different in each student in each city, with each conversation and relationship built. Yet the same Spirit will lead us, the same love will drive us, the same truth will guide us.

Would you join me in praying for each of us working with GenSend? Pray that the rest of this summer will mirror that moment in the stairwell: different harmonies, melodies, songs and prayers meshing together into a large act of worship to the glory of our loving Creator.

May we never lose our wonder

Jesus lived a perfect life. He died a perfect death. He resurrected in the perfect defeat of death and sin.

Maybe you’ve heard this before. Maybe you know it to be true. Maybe it’s the basis of your salvation, of your new life.

No matter where you find yourself, there exists nothing more important than this fact: Jesus’s life, death and resurrection act as the ultimate sacrifice for sin, the only source of true, deep life for all of mankind. Everything else is simply a detail, a distraction from this urgent truth.

As I prepare to spend my second summer as a GenSend missionary, this time in Phoenix, I’ve been reminding myself of this.

The simple gospel.

Simple, yet powerful enough to totally transform lives, to bring death to life.

I don’t remember the first time I heard the gospel, the first time I heard about the Jesus who would one day be my closest friend. I know I heard it countless times before I considered it my own and welcomed it as a part of my story as a fourth grader. And after that, I heard the gospel hundreds of more times.

know the gospel.

The good news of Christ changed me, brought me joy and peace and acceptance into the family of God. I knew it to be good and true and powerful. I knew the story. I knew the alternative, yet did nothing, said nothing to the people around me.

Honestly, as I look back, I’m not sure if I knew I was “supposed” to share the story with others, that my being a Christian meant me also being a missionary. I don’t know when that realization came to me, when God placed that truth on my heart.

What I do know: when I found out living the gospel meant sharing the gospel, nothing changed.

Being a Christian meant going to church every Sunday, attending youth gatherings on Wednesday, sacrificing a half hour of sleep on Thursday mornings for First Priority meetings. Sharing the gospel was for my pastor, for the missionaries that sometimes came to speak to our congregation, for the summer VBS leaders at church. Not me. Never me.

Now, before I lose myself on a tangent for missions (feel free to seek me out anytime you want to hear said tangent), let me get to my point.

If you know the gospel, if your heart has been eternally changed by the good news of Christ’s coming and that event’s impact on humanity, you are called to share that message.

I hope your heart is beating a little faster. I hope a voice in your head is going into panic mode, scurrying to ready-made excuses as to why this doesn’t pertain to you. I hope your hands are sweating at the thought of sharing Jesus’s truth with that person whose face pops up anytime you read something like this.

Even more, I hope you shut down those lies with the power of the simple gospel, the power of the cross, the power of the same Spirit that breathed in Christ, that gave life to the first church, that has brought millions into relationship with our Father.

I hope you share that simple gospel. Like, I hope you share it today.

Don’t sign up for some mission trip next month. Don’t look for a cop out way of sharing the gospel with a  kid at your church on Sunday, the same kid who just colored a picture of Jesus on the cross in Sunday school.

I mean, share it.

Here’s why, just in case you’ve forgotten. Because sometimes I do.

God pursued you. Before you even existed on this earth, He knew you (all of you!!) and He wanted you. So much so that He sent His son, not as a high priest, a rich king, a super-spiritual angel-like creation, but as an infant. He lived a tempted, yet perfect life. Jesus, the Word in flesh, shone light into the darkest of places, performing miracles we would scoff at today, which is the exact reaction he received. Even so, he allowed his creation to lead him to imprisonment and death, brutal death on a cross. As he was beaten and slowly killed, the Son of God interceded to his Father on behalf of his murderers. His last breath laid a blanket of grace over all of humanity for all time, as the veil between God and sinful man was torn, top to bottom. Eternal reconciliation was made possible when Jesus walked out of his grave three days later, spending the following 40 days with his disciples and gathering those who would soon build the Church.

Lots of things have happened from then to now. Lots of things have happened since you accepted that story above as the Truth of your own life. You’re busy. I know you are, because I am, too. You have loads of responsibilities. You serve at your church. You volunteer in your community. You work. You have a family. You have a social life.

Welcome to your mission field, my friend.

If you’re trying to convince yourself that there’s more work to do, more to learn, more training to partake in, more of the bible you have to read, stop.

Remind yourself of the simple gospel, of the relatively short story that changed your life forever and continues to do so every day. You don’t need any more than that. It was strong enough to transform you. It was strong enough to change the apostle Paul. It was strong enough to shake the entire earth.

It is strong enough to equip you with its power.

Don’t lose that child-like wonder at the story of our Savior. Don’t become desensitized to the truth and grace and love and power of the most urgent message. Don’t hold back parts of your life from being consumed by the blaze of the gospel.

Take it with you everywhere you go. Meditate on it daily, hourly. Give its free, life-changing gift every chance you get.

It’s scary, right? Every fear you have, every excuse you’re holding onto right now, they all exist in my mind, and sometimes I want to let them win because it’s easy.

But then I’m reminded of how deeply the message of Christ has altered my heart and I’m convinced of its truth all over again. You can’t keep that kind of joy, that wellspring of life to yourself.

Remind yourself to be in wonder of the gospel today and share that wonder with the next person you meet.

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Finally fulfilled

“Finally fulfilled.” That sounds like I’ve found the answer, huh? Like I’ve completed the journey, like I’m moving on to the next adventure, like I’m better than ever before.

Man, do I wish that were the case.

I didn’t want to write this. Not at all. I haven’t wanted to do much of anything lately. It’s been a struggle. I’ve always been a bit (okay, more than a bit) of a procrastinator, but this is different. It’s more.

I’m still having a hard time explaining it. I’m not sure what it is, when it started, where it came from, why it’s happening, how it’s affecting me. I just don’t know. I feel really empty; loneliness has crept in now more than ever.

But I’m not alone. I know that.

I have wonderfully loving friends. I know that.

My Father, the Creator of the universe chooses to know me and love me. I know that.

I have unlimited support through family, friends and church family. I know that.

But I don’t feel it. At least not for the past few weeks, months, however long.


Middle school was difficult for me (wasn’t it that way for all of us?)

I say that not to call back those horrific memories–please leave those photos in the past where they belong–nor to be melodramatic (typical Danie), but to make the connection.

I was on the phone with my mom one morning on my way to class, a routine of ours. Our casual conversation dove a little deeper and I confessed,

“Mom, I don’t think I’ve felt this badly since middle school.”

Her silence pierced me as I felt tears wet my face and knew the same was happening on her end.

We never talked about it, never discussed the things I went through, the thoughts I had, the me I was. But she knew; she just knew. She knew I wasn’t happy with myself, with everything going on around me, with how and who I was. She knew I was facing an obstacle, struggling to overcome, even if I didn’t know what that looked like.

She didn’t know, though, that I didn’t feel like I was enough. Enough for her and my dad, for my sister, for my friends, for the boy I had my eye on, for my teachers, for my cheer coach, for anyone. She didn’t know that I lulled myself to sleep with a concoction of daydreams featuring a better me and punishing thoughts toward my failure, toward the me I was. She didn’t know I was searching for hope, grasping at puffy clouds that looked promising, yet were nothing but vapor.

I’m not sure when it passed, when that dark cloud finally rolled away, I just know it did. It went away and we didn’t talk about it. It was over, finished, gone. I was better and that was that. When my sister neared middle school, we mentioned it for the first time. We vaguely spoke about why she wouldn’t have the same experience, the advantages she had in personality, time and setting itself. The conversation ended as quickly as it began.

I liked it this way. Talking about it felt too much like confrontation, something I hate with everything within me. I would have to face it head on, with words and thoughts and full conversations I couldn’t just walk away from. I didn’t want that, and the opportunity never arose, so it passed like a distant memory.

The next four years (yay, high school!) passed with few reminders of the years prior, as did the first half of college. Middle school happened, it sucked, it hurt, it left scars, but it was over. Done. Move on. So I did, and it was beautiful.

My time at UA has been everything I dreamed it would be and more. The friends I’ve made here surpass any level of description of what a friend should be, and I’m just so truly grateful for it all. I’ve begun to learn how to be content with myself, to realize I am enough through Christ (he equips us for all things), to be happy and confident with who I was made to be.

So I never thought I would be back here, back in this place of lonely, dark, “am I enough?” I had left it behind with my (exceedingly more) dramatic, middle school self; what reason could I have to ever find myself there again?

That’s the question I keep asking myself. What reason do I have to be here, to feel this way? I look around to find beautiful things and people far better than anything I could ever ask for. Why am I not beyond pleased, or at least content, with all I have? This year alone has been full of pure, top-notch adventure, everything I want with my life. So what’s wrong with me, why aren’t I happy with all of this?

At some point my mind began filling lulls with reminiscent thoughts, tracing its steps back to my dark hole. The fear of facing it jolted me, brought me back to reality. Yet I eventually welcomed the memories, allowed them to wash over me. I remembered how I struggled to connect with others, how I was once not good enough for a certain group, not the right fit. My mindset shifted as I began to assess my current friendships, doubt slipping in through the cracks and replacing what I once knew to be true.

My friends aren’t actually my friends; my memories and current situation got muddled. The don’t really enjoy me, they just tolerate me because they don’t have any other choice. If I just work on altering bits of my personality, changing my reactions to situations and tailoring myself to fit the mold, I could change that. It will take some effort, but I can totally swing it this time.

Transitioning, shifting schedules and friend dynamics convinced me I’d done it again, pulled a classic me and ruined everything. Doubt snaked into my college friendships for the first time as memories were made without me, as other friendships grew stronger and I saw myself being replaced. My initial reaction to ignore my likely over dramatic feelings quickly turned to a self-medicated situation: I would work to be who I felt “they” wanted me to be.

A day of failed attempts to change, to be better, changed a declining staircase into a steep, slick slope. There was no more traction; I was down by the time I realized I was falling. My mind raced to over analyze every syllable of the words spoken around me, of glances and accidental eye contact with friends and strangers alike. My skin didn’t feel like mine; I suddenly was trapped in these walls of myself, but I didn’t know how I got here, or more importantly, how to get out. I could feel, see, hear myself slipping away from those closest to me, but there was no next step, no place to grab hold and pull up.

It spiraled from there into every aspect of my life. Boys don’t like me for X number of reasons: work on your appearance, be nicer, learn to flirt (LOL at that); do anything, just don’t be you.

My teachers aren’t impressed by me: compare what you do and say to that student they love, make yourself more like them, think like they do and you might be smarter.

My family seems uninterested in my life away from home: be more like your friends whose parents ask about their classes, be more successful in school and work, find a boyfriend they’ll love.

My classmates aren’t entertained by me: be the perfect balance of funny and chill, stop being so spastic and annoying, be smarter, but not too smart, be confident in who you are; wait, don’t actually be you, just be confident in who you want to be.

My Bible study is unresponsive and inconsistent one week: be more like other leaders, be open with your girls, but not too open; be inviting, but not pushy; if you were more fun they’d enjoy this more.

My head feels fuzzy just writing it all out.

Finally I realized I had to talk about it, all of it. I couldn’t bear the weight alone anymore. The day I realized I had somehow returned to my darkness, I did the one thing I never did before: speak.

“It’s okay to not be okay.” I’d heard it a million times, but it never sounded as welcoming as it did in that moment, as it does today. I needed someone to tell me that it was totally fine for me to not be totally fine, to not be the bubbly, enjoyable person I want so badly to be. We’re human and fragile and soft and malleable and sometimes we get a little bent out of shape.

I’m pretty sure I’ve said recently, “I’m broken.” But I’m totally not broken. I’m bent, twisted, maybe a little banged up, but still in one piece nonetheless. So there’s hope in that. That’s the other difference from the time before: hope. I have something to hold onto, an ever-present friend in times of trouble, a loving Savior who constantly and consistently reminds me who I am and who He made me to be.

God never promised me (you, us) there wouldn’t be really, really difficult times, times of pain weighing more than I can bear. He told us to be ready for that, that surely it was going to come. Yet He did promise us that we would never, ever see a day that He was not beside us, guiding us through, making a way, shining a light. We just have to follow. But sometimes that’s really hard and you just don’t have the motivation, the willpower, the strength, the desire.

There will be days when you feel like everything is against you. You will be tempted to throw in the towel, to beat yourself down, to tell yourself to suck it up and stop being dramatic, but hear this, friend: it’s okay to feel this way.

But don’t do it alone, and don’t forget where you’ve been and what you’ve come through. Listen to the Father’s gentle whisper of loving truth: you are enough because of Me.

Fear and pain knock us down–hardBut even now, in the midst of my funk, whatever it is, I can look back and see my Jesus all over that time in middle school. I can see God’s hand holding me, protecting me, nudging me to the next step, all the way to here, to now. I can’t express how grateful I am for this hindsight, for seeing His faithfulness in my own life in a situation scarily similar to now, because I know that if He was faithful then, He will be faithful now and in the future. Our God doesn’t change. He is constant and stable and unshaking and certain, all the things we long for and cannot be; He has been faithful always and will never stop. It just won’t happen.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23

So even as I sit with my mind in a cloud of who-knows-what-emotion(s), forcing my fingers to keep moving through the lack of willpower, I have hope. A simple turn through his Word, a line of a song, a glimpse of love brings me back to His safe embrace, the reminder that He is bigger than whatever this is. He brought me through once and He’ll do it again, and again, and again, and again. And He’ll do the same for you.

Finally I can rest assured in that, even when I don’t feel like it.

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Jump off the freaking bridge

I’ve already written about bungee jumping this week. I’ve written about a lot of things in the past two weeks, and by now I should be sick of it. But I’m not. My heart still longs to write, and I’m really thankful for the passion God has given me.

But that isn’t what I want to write about today. I want to write about bungee jumping, the single most terrifying and thrilling moment of my life.

As I stood with my feet tied together on the Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown, New Zealand, God didn’t cross my mind. Real fear–like, I’ve been afraid before, but I’ve never felt true, deep fear until this moment–filled every part of me. In that full-of-fear moment, I wanted nothing more than to sit on that bridge.

I didn’t care how much money I’d spent to be there. I didn’t care about how often the team had talked about it, how deeply we’d discussed the story we would write about the experience. I didn’t care what people would say in the wake of my decision to back out. I didn’t care. Fear had completely engulfed any excitement or joy in the moment.

I wanted to stay on that bridge.

What’s funny, though, is the fear I felt on the ledge didn’t exist on other parts of the bridge. When our group first walked up, brave leaders stepping into the first open harnesses, nervous excitement was the only thing I felt. I suppressed nervous giggles as I watched the first jumpers take flight, my stomach floating, mind racing with anticipation. The experience we’d spent months talking about was finally becoming a reality and I could not wait.

The line got shorter and every minute or so we would inch toward the platform. A harness had been freed up; I was stepping into it over casual bungee conversation. A man shockingly similar looking to Lane Kiffin (with a New Zealand accent, of course) motioned it was my turn to queue up on the platform. After the next jumper, I would finally have my moment of bravery.

We chatted about Alabama football and his similarities to the ex-offensive coordinator, who he surprisingly knew of. He told me fun, Alabama-related stories as I sat and watched him strategically tie my ankles together, snap a carabiner clip through a few loops, tighten and reach for my hand. As my weight shifted to my feet, my heart, stomach and most of my other internal organs followed suit.

I immediately regretted my decision.

I felt no attachment to Kawarau Bridge until it was time to jump off of it.

I love the bridge, why would I jump? The water is blue and gorgeous, yes, but I can see it much better from here. There’s a great view of the mountains, I can watch people jump without having to do it myself, there are nice people up here I can talk to. There’s a handle right here that perfectly fits my white-knuckled hand. There’s seriously no need to jump. I don’t want to; I can’t.

These are the things I told Cam, the nice jumpmaster instructing me on how to do the jump I was now adamantly against. I appreciated his care, concern and quality instruction, but he just didn’t understand. I don’t know why I’m doing this. I don’t know why I thought I could. I once accidentally belly-flopped off a 25-foot cliff (yes, that really happened. Please reference any of my close friends for video evidence). Why did I think a 140-feet bungee would go better?

“I can’t. No. I don’t want to. I can’t.”

These words continuously escaped my mouth, Cam speaking encouraging words over them (he’s really good at his job). I didn’t ever convince myself I could and neither did he. I doubted my ability to jump until my face seemed inches from the water.

But somehow, I jumped.

Cam didn’t push me, though I asked him if he would. His words, no matter how comforting and well-meaning, did not give me confidence in my ability. My teammates cheering at me from the spectator deck did not fill me with the energy I needed to leave the platform.

It just kind of happened.

Without me even realizing it, I knew it was time.

I had come all this way, spent all this money, used all this time preparing. I’d talked with everyone close to me about how I would bungee jump at the original bungee site in the adventure capital of the world. My teammates and I had spent months talking out the logistics of the story I would co-write, of how many of us would book a jump, of how excited we were to do this.

And on the ledge, it was time. Preparation was over. The jump was booked and paid for. Members of our team had already jumped. Photographers and videographers were in place. My ankles were tied together and attached to a bungee rope, for crying out loud. It was time.

Jump off the freaking bridge.

These words resurfaced this week as I again found myself surrounded by fear. Doubt had again crept into my mind, clouded excitement and joy in the face of the unknown. I had to choose between the bridge and the jump, and for quite some time, I chose to hold on to the bridge.

It was easy to convince myself to stay on the bridge. It makes logical sense. The bridge is well-built. It effectively serves its purpose. People enjoy the bridge. The bridge holds a lot of history. I really like the bridge.

But God has been preparing me for the bungee for a long time. The bridge was necessary and, for a while, the bridge was good. Without the bridge, there would be nowhere to jump from, the jump wouldn’t exist.

From the bridge, the jump was exciting and beautiful and I couldn’t wait to experience it myself. I was thankful for the bridge, but I wasn’t attached to it. It just existed, serving its purpose of holding us up as we prepared for the jump, the real reason we were there.

Even as my feet were being tied together, I wasn’t attached to the bridge, afraid of leaving it. It wasn’t until my toes were at the ledge’s end, the bungee pulling tension on my ankles, the weight of the decision fully dependent on me, that I was afraid.

I wanted to stay on that bridge.

No one could push me off the ledge this week. I couldn’t convince anyone to make the decision for me, to persuade me to take the leap, to take away the feelings of fear. I just had to do it. I had to do it. I’d had the preparation, I’d taken the time, I’d prayed the prayers, I’d had the conversations. The ball was in my court. It was time.

Jump off the freaking bridge.

My friend saying these words to me didn’t convince me that I could make the jump. My closest friends’ encouragements and verbalized prayers didn’t give me confidence in my ability to get off the bridge.

It just kind of happened.

And without even realizing it, I see God’s sovereignty as I look back on each of those moments. He didn’t push me. He gave me the choice. Even better, He gave me the strength. I knew I couldn’t jump off that bridge. And I’m still not sure how I managed to do it. I just know at some point I realized that the thrill of the jump would at one point outweigh the fear of such and the safety of the bridge.

So, friend, I’ll say it again in hopes that I can be the encouraging voice that can’t quite convince you to move:

Jump off the freaking bridge.

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All other ground is sinking sand

I remember the first time I realized I possess a Southern accent.

I was a freshman sitting in a small, ten-person class, the lone Alabamian in a course on a novel written by an Alabama man about another Alabama man.

It wasn’t until a fellow from Ohio gave his input in the discussion, my words following shortly behind his, that I discovered the culprit. I heard the harsh twang of my words for the first time and was internally terrified, yet couldn’t quite stop the flow of my speech.

Never have I ever been so aware of my differences, of the things that separate me from the rest of the world outside of my Etowah County, Alabama bubble. Every moment since then has been leading to a search for others who feel this way, but on a much larger scale, to reconcile them to a sense of belonging and home and security.

After discovering the Southern shadow over my words, I dove into the world of religious studies, not due to any apparent connection, it just so happened that way. But this week I found the bridge between the two.

Desperate to get out of the small-world mentality surrounding the Southern stereotype, other cultures have always grasped my attention. The dress, the languages, the behavioral differences, the variety of what is considered normal, religious studies helped immerse me with the rest of the world and truly develop a heart for the nations.

In a random class on ancient Greek religion, a class I only registered for because no other REL courses fit my ~perfect~ schedule, I learned about the false stability we, Americans, live in. As I read Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s “The Past in the Present” for an upcoming presentation in the class, my mind shattered.

Trouillot challenges the sturdiness of the definition and content of history, of The Past. He writes that what is defined as history has much to do with the connection between the person defining it and a particular event, not the historicity of the event itself. Historians hold authority to choose what is considered historically important and what gets to be left behind and ultimately forgotten through the years. History isn’t this stable, secure definition of everything that’s happened over the generations of human life. It’s a constructed, flawed fabrication that a non-objective person, one just like us, thought up. Yet we, Americans, cling to it–something I would’ve argued until very recently.

Another religious studies class, Politics, Culture and Religion in the Middle East, taught me that borders, government and power aren’t secure and stable, either. Americans argue when our systematic electoral process ends with results we voted against, while people in Iraq pray they’ll be able to fight off today whatever rebel group attempts to overthrow the government that was instated just a few months ago. Israel and Palestine fought for decades, and continue to fight, for sound, distinct borders, a place to call home. People groups and nations all around the globe fight for freedom of speech, unfiltered access to information.

When I registered for Perspectives of the World Christian Movement at my local church, I didn’t expect it to connect so well with my “secular” religious studies classes. I didn’t expect to be taught three times a week about the unstable conditions around the world, the people who are continually devalued and unauthorized in their homes, the nations who are considered such by one country, but denied that label by the next. I didn’t expect to care. I didn’t expect to lose my own security.

There’s no way I would’ve guessed that I would learn about history as a constructed idea, definitely not that it would have any kind of affect on me if I did. I didn’t know, nor did I really care to know, about the countries around the world who have nothing–no borders, no government, no inalienable rights –to cling to.

But can I tell you I’ve seen Jesus in an entirely new light because of it?

The Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama should not teach me about the love and grace and unparalleled stability of Christ, but it does.

Hearing about the lack of security in the lives of people–of actual, living, breathing, working, caring, scared, strong, beautiful, funny humans–across the globe probably should make me doubt the stability I find in the U.S., but it does.

Maybe reading about the term “history” as nothing more than that, an arbitrary term, shouldn’t terrify me about what has happened that I don’t know about, what’s happening that I’m unaware of and what will happen that I can’t imagine, but it does.

These feelings likely shouldn’t drive me to joy, peace and comfort, but they do. They  drive me and call me and push me and literally force me to look at who Jesus is, the Son of God, the Hope of man, the only Way, and fall onto Him.

Y’all, I can’t do it. I like to think I’m strong (those who know me can attest to my aggressiveness), but, man, has this wrecked me and made me realize how weak I am. All of this foundation I was so sure of, it’s all turned to sand over the course of a week and a half. My world is crumbling around me, I can picture it literally doing so if I close my eyes for too long, but I stand secure. Not because of my strength, not because of my lack of care, not because of my ignoring the truth I’ve been exposed to, but because of Christ alone.

My Hope is Built on Nothing Less” has never been felt so deeply by my heart as it has in recent days. In light of all I’ve read and discussed and cried over in the last week or two, I see how powerful the strongholds of Western culture are. I finally see how we’ve built up these huge fortresses to block out the Light, creating our own beautiful, powerful, secure life apart from the chaos around us, apart from the truth. We don’t know it yet, nor do we really care to know, but Truth will infiltrate, and God, do I pray it does. Quickly.

May everything around you turn to sand so you can see and experience and know the strength and love and mercy and grace and might and stability of our Savior. It hurts like hell, but man is He secure and strong and steady and sure to save.

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Ok Ladies, Now Let’s Get Information

First of all, you’re welcome for the Beyonce reference.

Second, I have some words I want to share. Some words that may not sit well with others, some words that will spark passion and emotion in others. No matter who you are or which category you fall into, I’m writing this to you.

The women’s march in D.C.–and in numerous cities across the country–has made headline news since its happening this past Saturday. While scrolling through Facebook and other social media (when will I learn to avoid these sites in the days immediately following major political events?) my heart has been struck in a variety of ways by a multitude of opinions.

I’ll take a pause to thank God for the freedoms He’s blessed us with in this country, to freely and openly share our opinions on literally anything without fear of governmental punishment.

Still, I am saddened by some of the thought processes I’ve read about through my Facebook friends’ posts. I’m angered by the lack of information or misinformation people in my friends list have about what it means to be a feminist. I’m frustrated that women wearing genital-shaped hats have become the face of the march, of the modern feminist movement , because it is so much more than that.

I’ve written about feminism before, what that term is defined as, what it entails, what it stands for, but I felt led to follow up with a refresher, or at least self-medicate through writing about it again.

Feminism is not synonymous with pro-choice.

To be a feminist simply means a person believes that men and women ought to have equality in politics, education, careers, personal lives, etc. It does not mean denying that men and women are biologically different. It does not mean insisting that women have the right to abort their pregnancy. It does not mean burning bras, boycotting razors or labeling yourself a nasty woman. To be a feminist does not mean one must agree and believe in the idea of abortion at any stage of pregnancy. It is seriously just a plea for equality. Equal pay, equal opportunity, equal treatment in all areas.

Feminism does not mean liberal.

I am aware of the fear/anger/slur of opinion that follows the words liberal, radical, conservative, Democrat, Republican, etc. Feminism is not a political party. It is not a bullet on a partisan agenda. Feminism is found in the political realm only because there are laws restricting its battle cry and the people behind it are using their Constitutional right to spark change.

Feminists are not man-haters.

Feminism isn’t about diminishing the rights, powers or influence of men. Rather, it’s about asserting and securing the idea that women ought to have equal opportunities to such.

Feminism is not American.

It’s easy for Americans and Westerners to get caught up in our lives, our jobs, our families and all the truly good blessings that surround us. It’s easy to see the threat of small freedoms, to become enraged, to allow those feelings to drive us to invoke change. And that’s great, because that’s the only way it will happen. But take a look around the world.

Every day the sex slave trade grows; more girls, more women being pulled away from their homes and forced into a place that promises to help them provide for their families, but instead leaves them broken, alone and helpless. In some areas, even if these ladies were to somehow escape, they would be shunned for a sexual past, no matter the circumstance. They are truly stuck. Women in Saudi Arabia are legally banned from driving a vehicle. For decades, Chinese parents were restricted to a one-child policy, a second child permitted only if the first was a girl. Even to this day, though the one-child policy was eradicated in 2015 (praise God!), Chinese clinics often refrain from revealing a child’s gender until its birth to lower the risk of pregnancy termination if the child is a girl. Women all over the world have had to increase awareness of their surroundings, especially at night, because of the frequency of sexual assault. This is far from an exhaustive list.

This is not simply an American problem or an American movement. This is a cry for equality of all people globally, regardless of race, ethnicity or gender.

I’m thankful for the incredibly strong women that have come before me. Whether that’s Susan B. Anthony or my Aunt Jennifer, I look back and am so ridiculously proud of all the beautiful, unique, strong women who have impacted my life, directly or indirectly.

I am proud of the women who took the time to march on Saturday, whether they “represent” me or not. They took a stand, they made an impact, they pursued their passion, their voice was heard. That’s what feminism is about.

I’m proud to be a strong woman, one who isn’t afraid to say what I want, to take advantage of the opportunities I have to get there. I’m not afraid to take a stand to effect change when I think it’s due. I’m not afraid to use the freedoms I’ve already been blessed with to ensure that women around the world receive the same.

As I’ve found freedom in Christ, learned about the lack thereof around the globe and realized how blessed I am by my American freedoms, I’ve seen the massive blessing it is to be a Christ-following woman in America, to be a woman in general. This does not revoke men of their blessing, demonize people of other opinions, suppress people of other nations or support sinful actions. I am a feminist because I am a strong believer in the power of the cross, its ability to transform our minds and the love of the One who died upon it so all could be free and without condemnation.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Galatians 3:28

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Bless the Lord, oh my soul

I remember when Matt Redman’s 10,000 Reasons first came out. I was a sophomore in high school and everyone loved it. Except me.

We sang it at church. The radio played it on repeat. Every student worship gathering I attended had its lyrics on the projector screen.

I grew sick of it almost immediately. I hated its repetitiveness, I didn’t understand its meaning or purpose, and hearing its melody made me cringe.

You can imagine my disdain when the song’s popularity continued for years. I thought the Lord was somehow amused by my petty dislike for a song meant to worship Him, following me around with it relentlessly. I finally figured out what He was really up to these past couple weeks.

As my team arrived in East Asia after days of travelling, I was eager to hit the ground running and get down to the gritty work of missions. My heart sunk a little when our first few days were instead spent studying Paul’s journeys in Acts and singing Christmas carols and worship songs (all necessary and beneficial, just not what I’d expected). My heart plummeted when I glanced through our song list and saw 10,000 Reasons had made the cut.

I can’t express how done I was with that song. I thought I had somehow managed to escape its grasp sometime in 2014 or 2015–it had had years to run through its popularity and move on–but apparently it hadn’t had long enough.

I suppressed my eye rolls and managed to keep my obnoxious sighs internal, impatiently waiting for the next song to take its place as its chords poured out of the guitar and my teammates worshiped day after day after day. I felt as if the song was haunting me, following me literally around the world, every day for two weeks, getting caught in my head as we strolled through village markets, being hummed by a teammate while we climbed a mountain to find a breathtaking view of the town, being played as we worshiped in the middle of a field surrounded by mountains and a lake. This stupid song was blinding me from one of the most beautiful places I’d ever been and I wasn’t too pleased by it.

God finally began to let me in on His little plan on our very last day in our city. The emotions of leaving our new friends, people who had become family, hit me like a train as we worshiped together one last time. Struggles I’d left at home had somehow found their way back to me, my need for the affirmation of others fought to overtake my heart yet again, the stress of regular, routine life began to creep back into its cozy corner of my mind. I wasn’t ready to let go of those two weeks, this ridiculously wonderful, unbelievably beautiful, truly awesome experience.

Sometime during my internal struggle of returning to my “normal,” 10,000 Reasons had begun to play. The words naturally came from my mouth; it didn’t take any thought. I’d heard the song hundreds, likely thousands of times, so of course I knew every word, no matter how much I’d hated it.

Yet this time felt so much different. I wasn’t begrudgingly singing a song I loathed, I wasn’t absentmindedly looking around the room to pass time. Instead, I was singing a broken-hearted prayer to the Father, to my soul.

Bless the Lord, oh my soul. Worship His holy name.

Sing like never before, oh my soul.

I’ll worship Your holy name.

This time the chords I’d spent years hating spoke to me, revealed my heart to me and showed me that I wasn’t worshiping Him. My soul hadn’t been singing to the Lord. Instead I’d spent years teaching my soul to long for affirmation from the world, from the people around me, from the relationship I lacked. I couldn’t find 10,000 reasons to worship my God for His goodness, His faithfulness, His love because I didn’t find what I wanted when I looked at Him. I’d been too caught up in my “life,” in my earthly desires, in my longing for the relationship I felt the Father was keeping from me, to worship Him, to sing to Him, to truly see Him.

I didn’t hate this song because it was a bad song, because its melody annoyed me, I hated it because it was a reflection opposite my own. Without even fully realizing it, I’d been holding my heart and life back from a full surrender to the Lord while I searched for affection and validation apart from Him. I’d been praying for things I wanted God to bless me with, praying for Him to change my heart, praying for His glory to ring throughout the world, yet I wasn’t allowing Him to do the work that needed to be done in me. I was doing the exact opposite.

On the outside, I’d spent years avoiding this song, but internally, I was avoiding giving my full heart, my entire life to the Lord. I wasn’t ready to let go of my hope for a perfect relationship, one that would calm all of my insecurities, validate my existence, affirm my personality. I dreaded surrendering my desire to be the best, for others to think well of me. Over the past few years, God has been calling me to the same thing: surrender. I’ve responded with small yeses. A yes to ending the relationship I thought was the perfect one. A yes to seeking my identity in Christ, not in others’ opinions of me. A yes to setting aside more and specific time to grow in my relationship with the Lord. A yes to being sent around the country for the Gospel, yes to being sent around the world.

But the Father isn’t looking for multiple small yeses. He wants one big YES. He wants arms outspread, hands empty and open wide, down on your knees, equally broken and restored by the realization of His love, “YES!”

He is jealous for me, for you. Jealous. He is not willing to share, He will not compromise. His love is relentless and will not settle for less than your everything. How overwhelmingly beautiful is it that the Creator of the universe desires all of you? We could easily find 10,000 reasons for Him to turn and deny each of us, yet He loves us and wants us and misses us when we search for love outside of Him.

Allow the Father to teach your soul to sing His praise alone. Surrender all that you have to Him, let His worship fill your life and heart and mind. Sing His praise unending, forevermore.