Blue Collar Love

Part of following Jesus is “doing the laundry” of Love. Blue collar love implies sweat, dirt, and blood. Sometimes blue collar love can be as anticlimactic as an exhale. Releasing forgiveness, murdering your preferences, discarding pride, standing in the gap of someone else’s faults and bearing the weight: all of these are a mere exhale, one that most of us hold in ourselves until the carbon eats us from the inside. But blue collar love is a post refrain, as easy as laying into a soft garden to sleep, as simple as letting your head sink below the lapping water. It won’t always be glamorous or noteworthy or inspirational; but it will always be an exhale; always a Promise, that when you let the air out, you will then be invited to breathe in new Love, that which makes and molds you into your truest you. Blue collar love is humming during the night shift, letting a person go, unclenching your fists from that white knuckle grip on pain that you have had for years. Blue collar love is holding hands, washing feet, and breathing His last. Blue collar love is as simple as dying.

Though it sounds dull enough to be unfulfilling, there is a growing rumor of Good News. Perhaps no one will see your love but Him who coined the Love Story in the first place. Perhaps it will take until eternity for Him to happily remind you of what you did that looked so much like Him. He’ll place His hand on your heart and, at last, all of you will be known and welcomed in. In that moment, every moment you chose Love over yourself, every time you exhaled, will begin to sing. The sweat, dirt, and blood will turn to rose gold. Every hill you chose to die on will be affirming the truth.

“Well done, my good and faithful servant. You are just like My Son.”

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Life

Our friend Paul said, “it’s no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). The life, death, and life again of Jesus gave Paul relentless permission to lay down his own, old life. Look again. Paul was so resurrected by Jesus, that he was able to fully and entirely release his old life, surrender his preferences, and be utterly consumed by the Love of Jesus. All I can think of is how grateful Paul must have been to relinquish that old life. When Paul met Jesus, he was confident that he was a new man. When Paul met Jesus, he experienced forgiveness and love so unconditional, that his only response was to leave his old life and never turn back. Paul never felt the need to resurrect what Jesus had forgiven. Out with the old, and in with the new.

Jesus gives us full permission to never carry our old self with us again. When we show up with all our baggage, Jesus gives us permission to toss it out. The shame, the fear, the sin, the mistakes… those don’t have to come with us into our walk with Jesus. Instead, Jesus forgives us, restores us, heals us, and invites us to rest. (Matthew 11:28) If it sounds too good to be true, then you’re headed in the right direction. If it’s offensive to your inner pharisee, good. Grace is scandalous and hope is wild.

I think Jesus is all about freedom. I think He wells up with joy when we get free from bondage. I think life in Jesus is meant to be less of a power struggle and more of a sigh of relief. I’m serious. When you choose Jesus, He gives you permission to leave the old behind. That’s why He calls us new. (2 Corinthians 5:17). Jesus is on our team. I forget that sometimes. I tend to think I’m trying to earn a place with Him, but He’s been at the altar for a long time, and He’s grinning. 

Take up your cross daily. Jesus says that a lot. I used to read that and get really nervous, not wanting to suffer too much; not wanting to give up too much. But then Jesus showed me something beautiful and insane. When Jesus talks about the Cross, He compares it to Love. When anyone in scripture talks about the Cross, they call it a full manifestation of Papa God’s Love (1 John 4:10, Romans 5:8). So when Jesus beckons me to carry my cross, He’s beckoning me to carry nothing but unconditional Love. For myself, for my neighbors, for Him. Will that Love be blue collar and sacrificial? Absolutely. But that’s what makes it deep.

Taking up your cross means taking up Love, which, by the way, is the only weight we were created to bear. Taking up your cross means choosing unconditional love even when your circumstances are making the air in your lungs thin. It means unconditionally loving yourself, because we cannot give away what we do not possess. It means unconditionally loving, accepting, forgiving everyone. Every one. Unconditional Love means receiving His unconditional pursuit of us. It means going under the knife and choosing Him, even when it’s nerve wracking. Take up your cross. Carry Love. You were made for it.

The children of Abba are hard-wired to carry True Love, and they don’t ever have to bring their past into their new life. So, I pray you take up your cross daily, choosing to receive Papa God’s Love; choosing to Love Him back, to Love yourself, and to Love everybody. I hope you lose your life. Every bit of it. I hope you feel safe to toss away the things that used to cause you shame. I hope you lose what you wanted to control. I hope you lose everything that isn’t saturated in Jesus.

I have a pretty good feeling that, when you do, you’ll find that the heart that’s beating in your chest isn’t yours, it’s His, and all the rest will be grace, and joy, and peace.

 

 

 

 

What’s So Scary About That?

Today, God said a couple things to me that freed me.

Following Jesus means being freed from death, despair, and impending doom. It’s simple. When Jesus talked about the identity of His followers, He used words like abundant(john 10:10), joyful (john 15:11), and free (john 8:32). Those verses don’t talk about our circumstances. But they do talk about our identities. Jesus reminded me that following Him means I don’t have to be defined by my circumstances anymore. I can be so wrapped up in Him that my world could crash down, but my identity won’t. The storm outside me doesn’t have to create a storm inside me. Jesus has given me an identity, and He has given me permission to settle for nothing less than abundance, joy,  and freedom.

Jesus didn’t ask you to put so much pressure on yourself. The more pressure you put on yourself, the less Jesus gets to be the savior. Not to mention, it’s exhausting to strive to save something that’s already been saved. Take the pressure off. Take the burdens off. Jesus told us His yoke is easy, not back breaking. He said following Him would look a lot like rest (Matthew 11:28). When you put pressure on yourself, you end up punishing yourself when you fail to fulfill your own requirements. But punishment, something deeply intertwined with fear, doesn’t coexist with love (1 John 4:18). When the pressure is on us, Jesus doesn’t get to be the hero, His blood means nothing, and the sweet promises of God get put on hold. And how awful would it be if, after everything Jesus did, salvation was dependent on us? That wouldn’t be salvation. So take the pressure off yourself. Let His glory take care of everything.

The trenches aren’t as scary as you think. I have been living in the trenches this past year. What I mean by “the trenches” is the hard stuff. The valley and not the mountaintop. I think I have dwelt among anxiety, spiritual warfare, loneliness, and doubt more this past year than in my entire life combined. But God said something to me about my fears and about the trenches that made me laugh: “What’s so scary about that?” My Jesus literally said that about what I’ve been referring to as torment, death, and captivity. Now, I know that initially sounds insensitive. But we know Jesus isn’t insensitive so what was He really doing? He was robbing the grave. HAHA! Our Father has been robbing the grave for a long time now, and He just did it again. What I declared dead in my life, Jesus simply told me wasn’t scary to Him. And I learned something really cool: if God’s not afraid of it, I don’t have to be either. Jesus stripped the power from my fear. Jesus freed me from bondage. Jesus restored my hope. When I agree with Jesus and not my fears, I get to experience more of that abundant life that He promised me. So I look my pain, fear, lies in the eye and I say “what’s so scary about that?” Try it, it’s pretty freeing.

Finally, God reminded me that for love to be unconditional, it has to be blue collar, willing to get it’s hands dirty, unashamed, and unafraid. That’s who my Jesus is. He loves me and you unconditionally. He says there is nothing that can separate the fullness of His love from us. In a way, we’re stuck with God’s love (romans 8:39). It’s not going anywhere. Jesus isn’t going anywhere. No matter how long and hard I fight my worthiness, no matter how many times I choose the lie over the truth, no matter how much I push Him back. He’s Immanuel. God with us. God with us. He’s not ashamed of us or what we have done, so we’re not shameful. He’s not angry with us. He’s not eternally disappointed. He’s not stoic. He’s loving, joyful, peaceful, kind, gentle, consistent, patient, and good. Unconditional love has declared that you are good. He made a Love investment and He’s holding out to the end where there will be a wedding banquet that will fill the heavens with reunion, deep joy, untamed celebration, and wild love. Unconditional love is my best friend. It’s for me, and it gets to come from me too, and it’s an invitation I no longer want to ignore.

Trust


35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Mark 4:35-41


So there’s this story in the gospel narrative where Jesus and His disciples are crossing the sea in a boat and a storm begins. It’s so wild that water begins to flood into their boat. Let’s talk about that storm. The storm was so aggressive that seasoned fishermen, men well acquainted with the wild, unpredictable nature of the sea, were convinced they were going to die. And something I’ve been learning is that if fishermen think a boat is sinking, it’s definitely sinking.

But Jesus is asleep in the sinking boat.

I’m not sure why I think this is funny. The disciples weren’t amused though. In the face of impending doom, the disciples shake Jesus awake and ask bitterly, “do you not care that we are perishing?” 

One part of their question sticks out to me: Do you not care?

Can you imagine wild-eyed disciples, terrified for their lives, screaming indignantly at Jesus, wondering desperately if He even cares? Right about now I am picturing myself. I tend to shake my fists at Jesus a lot, attempting to remind Him that the waves of life are causing my boat to sink, and, honestly, I ask Him if He even cares about me, too.

Back to the raging sea, I have something to point out. Up to this point in Mark’s gospel, Jesus hasn’t calmed any seas yet. The disciples don’t know Him as someone who can make winds and waves obey. So when Jesus so pointedly asks “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” It’s not because He’s expecting the disciples to know that He could calm a storm. He knew they were still learning the miracles up His sleeve. When Jesus calls out their lack of faith, He’s not calling out their lack of faith in His miracle-working ability; He’s calling out their lack of faith in His care for them. In summary, the disciples ask “do you even care?” and Jesus responds, “have you really not been convinced of my Love yet?” Jesus isn’t asking us to have His repertoire of miracles memorized, He just wants us to know His character. He wants us to have our eyes set on His compassion, His mercy, His grace, and His love so much so, that when the boat does indeed sink, we are  still confidant in our Savior’s gentle care for us.

Jesus intertwines faith with knowing Him deep. He invites us to know Him. He beckons us into relationship with Him. The phenomenon of faith, utter trust, and reckless abandon, happens when we know and remember who Jesus has proven Himself to be. And He has proven Himself to be the Good Shepherd. We can look at all the miracles He performed and be impressed, but it’s the why behind those miracles that will change the way we sleep in a storm. Why did Jesus cleanse lepers, restore sight to the blind, and heal the sick? Because He had compassion on them, and He wanted them to have a chance at a life in community, free of being identified as dirty, useless, and broken. Why did He forgive adulterous women and covetous tax collectors?  Because He loved them deeply and wanted their lives to be changed by the free gift of grace. He wants you to know those types of things about Him. He wants you to know how trustworthy He is and how deeply He cares for you. He is intimately aware of your ships and the way they sink, He just wants you to know He’s with you in the storm and He won’t let you perish.

Jesus has invited us into utter trust in Him, and based on His character, I don’t think He would do that if He were not absurdly confident in Himself to care after us with upmost dedication, love, and tenderness.

Beauty.

“A woman in her glory, a woman of beauty, is a woman who is not striving to become beautiful or worthy or enough. She knows in her quiet center where God dwells that He finds her beautiful, has deemed her worthy, and in Him, she is enough.” -John Eldredge


I used to hate my body. I’m serious. Any curve or trace of fat sent me spiraling. I was rigidly uncomfortable in my own body, intimately aware of my weight, how I looked from every angle, and what every flaw in me was. At a young age, I learned that eating less made me feel better. So I did. For eight years. I stripped my calorie intake, stared into mirrors with all frustration, and trained myself in the art of thinking skinny. I learned how to poise myself on the edge of a chair so my legs would look tiny. I overtrained and overworked my body. And food, the very thing meant to sustain me, literally repulsed me. It felt like nothing to me though. I didn’t mind that I was destroying my body, because I wanted to be in control, and I wanted to look a certain way. I was bending and breaking under the pressure to be in control, to be perfect, to be beautiful. What a life, huh? Truth is, I was hurting myself. I wasn’t loving myself, my heart or my body, and, in turn, I was hurting the people around me. My manipulation of food bred comparison, and invited others to feel manipulated and give into their own body image issues. That’s what self-hate does, it invites everyone else to the pity party; misery loves company, right? My fear of food and hatred of my own body made the atmosphere around me unsafe. The people who loved me deepest were watching me flounder. When I partnered with lies about myself and about beauty, I was casting love away, inviting shame, and breeding death.


And that was my life of striving for beauty and worth. I was off the mark though. Turns out, what I thought was a conversation on body image, was actually a lesson in loving myself. What I thought was a conversation on beauty, was actually a lesson in identity. God is good at going deeper. He sees past the behavior, past the eloquent wording, past the discrepancies and distractions, into the needs of His daughters.

So what was I needing? When I was so deeply dissatisfied with my body, what was my soul craving? The sweet song of humanity is that we need love. When I was hating my small frame, what I was actually craving was Jesus’s sweet, unchanging love. I realized that I, along with so many of my sisters, felt damaged by the unpredictable waves of life. I’d faced rejection that made no sense to me. The burden of swaying affections that came and went surrounded me. Uncertainty of what would happen to my heart next made me take all control into my fearful, white-knuckle grip. In all of my striving, I was hungry for Jesus’ steadfast love. I was longing for love to come in and decide to stay. I thought rejection had power over me, so I fled from it and battled it, failing to understand the banner of commitment over me. Jesus knew who I was when He wed me, and He’s not going anywhere. And to this need for steadfast love, God, with kind eyes peering all the way into mine says, I have no intention of leaving you. I will never leave you or forsake you. I’m in this. You’re my girl. You’re her, and you’re worth it.

What else was I needing? If Jesus’ love was behind me, what was I missing? I was missing love from myself. Jesus tells us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Inside of the greatest commandments, Jesus urges us to love ourselves. Our ability to love others will only go so far as we are able to love ourselves. Our ability to receive Papa’s love and love ourselves determines our ability to love others. Jesus says, “As the Father loves me, so I have loved you.” Do you see what’s happening there? Jesus isn’t just saying that He loves us with the same affection and gravity of love as God loves Him. He’s also saying that His love for us is entirely rooted in His acceptance of God’s Love. In order for Jesus to turn and love us, He had to be rooted in His own belovedness first. I wasn’t doing that. I was actually against loving myself. Shaming my own body, withholding food, and speaking negatively over myself was rivaling the rest of love in my life. I couldn’t receive love in full or give it away in full until I could utter the words, “I love you, Nina.” And through my terrifying journey into loving myself, Jesus, putting his hands on my shoulders and smiling says, I am proud of you for loving yourself well. I’ll be here every step of the way to teach you how to drench yourself in love worthy of a royal daughter.  

What else was I needing? To understand beauty the way God created it. Beauty on my terms has far too much to do with physical. On Abba’s terms, He’s looking into the heart He created. He’s disregarding culture entirely and pursuing the depth of beauty that He planted in me when He breathed life into my lungs. He’s revealing to me that beauty is rooted in the creator. My beauty is reminiscent of my Father. My heart, my soul, my head to my toes, are image-bearers of Him. Beauty on God’s terms is free of what the world wants. Beauty on God’s term stops being a pawn in a cruel game of chess and starts being an absurdly free expression of indwelling Love. Jesus alive in me is the root of my beauty. To my misunderstanding of beauty, Abba shows me exactly what He thinks of me. You’re just like my beloved Son. You’re a totally unique expression of my Love. I did an amazing job creating you. 


So there’s my story and what I learned after I chose freedom. Again, freedom is always a choice, and healing is sometimes blue collar. What I’ve learned after time with Abba is that He doesn’t leave His children in pain. He doesn’t rest until we know the truth. He’s determined. He’s a good Dad. I learned that it doesn’t matter how deep into sin you are because Christ already died. Sin died with Him. What’s holding you back isn’t living. It has no real power. When Jesus was resurrected, so were you. The only thing staying in the grave is sin. YOU have power. You can partner with misery, which will always be safe; or you can say yes to freedom, which you were created for.

The Love You’re Looking For

Luke 10: 38-42  “Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things,42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

I have a pretty impressive track record of being wrong about love. Like really wrong. Behind me is a trail of people I have thrown my heart at in the hopes of finding security, affection, and validation. I’ve begged for bottomless time investments, deep emotional commitment, and tireless companionship. I’ve gone into counterfeit love headfirst, thinking if I dove deep enough, I’d find what I desperately needed.

We need, need, need love. We were created to yearn for, ache, and long for true love. That’s not a bad thing. Think of the trinity: Father, Son, Spirit. Can you imagine the depth of love and intimacy there? And to think we are the image bearers of this? Of course we long for love and of course that’s perfectly okay, in fact, it’s pretty unbelievably beautiful. I’m tired of watching my deepest desired be dressed in shame, aren’t you? I used to think the problem was with what I needed, now I know I’ve just been asking the right question to the wrong person.

If you’re reading this because you want to know what real Love is, because you’re hungry to fall in a Love that will rescue you, because you’re tired on the counterfeit loves that have wrecked your heart, because you have been looking everywhere, but you’ve come up empty…I’m glad you’re here.

The story of Mary and Martha is one of the most profound, intimate, revolutionary love stories in the entire Bible. This story is just above a whisper about the Love I was always looking for. It’s the simple gospel in a few lines, where Abba’s Son closes the distance and gives Himself in full. We can talk like it is about Mary and Martha but then we will have missed the Tremendous Lover altogether. His Love is embedded in every line, running head on into us with reckless abandon.

The story begins with Jesus entering a village. The only reason He even sets foot in that town is to go and be with… Who? Martha. Look again. Whose house is Jesus in? Martha’s. Jesus walks into that village to go and see Martha; the one who is distracted; the one who can’t seem to understand who Jesus is for long enough to sit down with Him. Jesus enters that village to go to Martha’s house. This visit isn’t planned by the women. Just look at how frantic Martha is… do you think she expected Jesus there that day? So the story goes, the Tremendous Lover knocks on Martha’s door, on a day she did not expect, and He invites Himself in. He’s there on His own agenda because He wanted to be. Jesus comes to you.

This gets me in my core. This is a pursuit. Do you see it? And this is not a one-time, hot-passioned, fleeting pursuit. This is a determined pursuit. Jesus goes into Martha’s home knowing full well that she’ll be too distracted to recognize Love in action. He goes anyway. Even more, He sticks around while Martha frantically tries to be good enough for Him. He never had any intention of leaving. It was His idea and His choice to be there and stay there. Somewhere along the way, we started believing the lie that if we’re messy, distracted, or not committed enough, Jesus would leave. We started believing we had to be a certain way to attract and keep Jesus around, and now we’re afraid that any wrong step will cause Him to step away from us in anger and disappointment. But look at the way Jesus is with Martha. He doesn’t leave. She’s anything but in love with Him, yet Jesus stays. That’s because Jesus’ love doesn’t respond, it initiates and never stops. 

When an indignant Martha asks why Jesus isn’t making Mary serve as much as she herself is, Jesus doesn’t chastise or condemn or even correct her. See, Martha thought she had to earn Jesus. She didn’t realize He was already in her house and that was all that mattered. Jesus’s response to Martha is to say her name. When people say my name to me, I feel known. Jesus knew Martha. He knew she would miss the point. He knew she would be distracted and confused. He says her name anyway. He says it twice, which is what humans do when we’re really trying to get someone’s attention. He doesn’t yell her name. I think He whispered it. I think He took her hands in His hands and whispered her identity to her and looked deep into her eyes. I think He says Martha, Martha because He’s in Love and He just can’t wait for Martha to realize that Love is for her.

The last thing our sweet Jesus does is reassure Mary. She doesn’t do anything but sit at His feet and listen. She never breaks eye contact with her Shepherd, and in response, Jesus tells the eager daughter that He’s not going anywhere. Look around, Jesus likes to assure His friends of who He is: He doesn’t abandon, or grow weary, or quit. When Jesus says the good portion will not be taken away from Mary, He’s telling her that her simple choice is enough. Even more, He’s confirming the radical rumor of heaven on earth. He’s making a vow. He has given Himself in full to us. The Bridegroom, the Tremendous Lover, made good on His word when He died on the cross. Jesus is devoted to you. He’s completely committed, with no thought of going back. You can count on Jesus being present and fully invested in your heart forever.

I think this is a taste of the real Love we’re all looking for. It’s a wild Love, and Jesus is so relentlessly confidant in it that He’s willing to wait it out for each of us to see it.

Ezer Kenegdo

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a ezer kenegdo for him” Genesis 2:18

Tonight, Jesus took my bedraggled, afraid-of-rejection heart and He called me ezer kenegdo, a love song nickname that knocked me off my feet.

The first creation to be called ezer kenegdo is Eve. What else can I say? Abba sung this name while He was breathing life into the crown of creation.

Ezer means strong, helper; kenegdo means in front, before, corresponding. When I hear the word ezer, I hear the word essential. When I hear the word kenegdo, I hear the word unveiled.

I used to think these words were only for brides, now I know it’s just what God calls His daughters.

And isn’t this name the root of what we long for? We long to be known for our strength, grit, and heart. We long to be help that is sought after. We long to be essential and unique. And what else? We long to fulfill needs, to be unveiled, to be pursued, known intimately, and invited into companionship. Ezer kenegdo is more than the generous title given to a wife. The name holds the roots of what Abba created in each of us. Ezer kenegdo is not a problem, but a solution. Read Genesis 2:18 again. You’re not a problem, you’re a dearly beloved solution. You’re it. You’re the bees knees because Abba said so.

You’re an ezer kenegdo to Me and to the world. You’re irreplaceable, and your heart, YOU, play a unique, adventurous, beautiful role in My Story. You are an ezer kenegdo. You long to be a bride because I created you as an ezer kenegdo. You are vital, little one, + you are capable of a Love so wild and free that it’ll knock the wind out of the world. Your capacity to love is stubborn, hopeful, life-giving, immense, + loyal. I see that in you. I placed it there. Your ability to love well is a treasure that I am cultivating. Don’t give up on yourself. Don’t be ashamed of your tremendously brave heart. Don’t let world call you too-much, for I say you are enough, my ezer kenegdo. You’re strong, tenacious, full of grit and courage. Your beauty is an avalanche. I made you that way. Don’t hate your desire for pursuit, love, + companionship, I made you to be like Me. Ezer kenegdo, you are worthy. You’re so much more than you know. I delight in you, + I delight in this. I release you from shame of your ezer kenegdo heart for I will never reject you. I will always pursue you. I will always fight for you. I will always invite you on this wild adventure. 

I hope you feel that in your bones with all the force and tenderness that Love can hold.