My Love

My love is deep and beautifully reckless when it moves. It is a force against which nothing can stand.

It is a love that does not ask about conditions, but assumes the eternal.

A love that deepens not in spite of your flaws but because of them; that delights in your humanness and celebrates your growth. A love that sits with you in the struggle.

Those who know love the least draw the closest to Mine. They proclaim the impossibility of such a love as this, all while dwelling in its midst.

This is not a passive love; it is a love that transforms. It moves broken hearts to wholeness; it plants seeds of compassion in a barren field of apathy.

The sweetest of fruits are yielded from my Love.

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Reflection on Helen Keller (from October 19th)

I believe that life is given us so we may grow in love, and I believe that God is in me as the sun is in the color and fragrance of a flower-the Light in my darkness, the Voice in my silence. -Helen Keller –

Abba, there are times when I grow weary

Of seeking to understand and feeling misunderstood

Of loving without being loved

Of knowing without being known.

But I push ever forward God

Because I know of no other response

That would honor your love, your mercy,

When I am fully known only by you.

Help me, Abba, help me.

I don’t know for what I plea

But you do, and so I ask

Help me, Abba, show me.

I am but a child, wholly ignorant,

I give you my heart, my life

To do with as you wish

For nothing and no one is so good as you.

Reflections from a Waterfall

From August 18th, 2017

Look, see how calm and still the waters are? Yet right on the other side of that is a rushing waterfall. God, what is the significance of that?

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate (solitary) place, and there he prayed. Mark 1:35

Abba, what do you have to say to me?

Peace, like a palm pressed firmly against your chest.

Every creation, every life, is Mine, created by Me, with intention. Have I put any less thought into you, child of Mine? Trust me. Trust in my timing. For different works require different efforts. How long must water flow to cut paths through the earth and shape the land? How patient must the seed of a tree be to reach maturity? Is it any different with you? And how much more am I invested in the work I do in you than the water or the tree? Be confident in My love for you. 

Dating Part II

I am beyond thankful for the responses I received to my recent blog on (Christian) Dating (link to read). I wanted to do a follow-up to address some of the items that came up in discussions, calls and texts. I also wanted to thank the men who reached out about introducing me to some good Christian guys. I love it, I’m thankful for it, and I hope this kind of networking continues not just for myself but for the many wonderful single ladies I know. Let your matchmaker self free, friends.

First, I get that it might have sounded personal when I listed “How awesome I was,” and perhaps even that, “I was upset with my own singleness.” I’m actually the happiest I’ve ever been. That doesn’t mean I’m not open to a relationship, but I don’t feel this great emptiness or anything. I was merely using myself to illustrate a point: I’m pretty cool in some ways, and not a single Christian guy has ever asked me out. And this is the same story of friends much more beautiful and amazing than me. I didn’t have approval to share their stories, so I shared mine. Part of that is sharing that sometimes, even when we’re in a good place, we can feel discouraged and ask ourselves if the criteria we are using in dating is right (for example, Christian).

That being said, I have been on a long journey to understand what kind of guy I should keep my eye out for, and I have taken many other women on similar journeys. I got a whole lot of “Amens,” and “I’m glad someone finally said something,” from so many ladies regarding the lack of boldness from men, but I want the gentlemen to know that I recognize that this is a two-way street.

To be blunt, there’s a whole lot of ladies that discount a man long before they ever make it to a date. There’s something to be said about being equally yoked, but there are some I know that seem to think the man should BE Jesus (but taller, and obviously financially sound, with a good career but, you know, has work/life balance, takes care of himself, loves kids and God…).

Here’s the list of things I OFTEN hear from women (before we spend weeks or months on the list):

Their MUSTS

Financially stable

Taller than me in heels

Takes care of himself

Likes to Travel

Plays ___________

Loves God

Loves kids

Good career

Owns a car/house

Good teeth

Nice Eyes

Full Head of Hair

Healthy

Intelligent

Charismatic

Thoughtful

Handy-able to fix things

Funny

Affectionate

Pursues me

Close to his family

No kids

Not divorced

Dresses well

Likes to dance

Plays an instrument

Active in the church?

My list of MUSTS (currently)

Has a growing relationship with God

Has male friendships (some Christian)

Kind/Compassionate

Sense of humor

Active (nothing major; can hike/camp)

A Little Adventurous

Ready to be in a serious relationship

Depth of Conversation

Enjoys community

Has some kind of vision he’s working towards

Substantially shorter, but no physical attributes. Why? Time to be a little bit uncomfortable but say something I think is necessary. I’ve dated a lot of very different types of guys, and (before I became Christian) I was intimate with some of them. One thing I learned is this: if you’re both motivated to have good sex, you have good sex. And it keeps getting better. This might SOUND crass, but my point is that sex with almost anyone can be good, and if you’re having good sex, you become more and more attracted to the person. So I’m not as concerned about the physical embodiment of the guy… hair color (or lack of hair), height, size, etc. Also, I become more attracted to a person based on their brains and personality (or if they are fixing a car or doing plumbing… weirdly attractive). This is a startling idea to some people but it’s true. So, let’s consider my list again:

My list of MUSTS (currently)

Has a growing relationship with God The trajectory of a man, where he’s been and where he’s going, are far more important to me than mistakes from his past or where he is presently.

Has male friendships (some Christian) I’ve dated guys who have no guy friends, or no friends at all. It’s very telling of their ability to maintain relationships. And guys need guys; I can’t be your everything. You need a community of brothers to do life with too.

Kind/Compassionate I’ve dated cruel and/or apathetic men. Although I’ve healed from it, it’s a vulnerability for me. I need to see that he will consider me in his decision making and behavior. This is a fruit of the Spirit I need to see manifested in his character.

Sense of humor Sex is great and a gift from God, and I hope to have a lot of it in my marriage, but there’s a lot of time we will need to spend together NOT having sex. And I want it to be filled with laughter. It’s so important to me and it’s such a great place of closeness and joy.

Active (nothing major; can hike/camp) I want us to be active together, and model an active lifestyle for whatever family we have.

A Little Adventurous I don’t need a rock climber or skydiver, but I also don’t want to have to pull teeth to try new things, and I want someone who will continue to push me to try new things too.

Ready to be in a serious relationship Because I’m not 22 anymore.

Depth of Conversation Its actually just super sexy to me. A guy who can hold a convo about something meaningful? 😍 Work on a motorcycle at the same time and you’ll have my heart forever.

Enjoys Community Likes people and understands I need more people than just him to be happy. Is cool with building community in our home.

Has some kind of vision he’s working towards I’ve dated men without vision and it sucks. Because it’s so important to me, it becomes a point of contention. They don’t need to know what they want to do for the next 40 years or be career obsessed; they just need to be moving towards something (also, it’s kind of sexy).

My list has changed a lot the last couple years and I’m confident it’s not perfect. It’s what feels right for me. Mine didn’t used to have the things I listed for what I heard from a lot of Christian ladies, but there were some misguided items. Really dumb things like “at least 2 years older,” “a bit of a bad boy,” “eyes that make me melt,” or “plays guitar or drums.” But spent some time in prayer and reflection looking at what I NEED vs. what I WANT. And let’s not discount the importance of sex. After looking at the Bible, as well as seeing how wrong I was getting it doing things my way, I decided to stop having sex and save all that fun for my future husband. But if the guy has the attributes on my list? I think I can be pretty confident we’re going to have something pretty stellar. Because we’ll make sure we do.

In summary: guys, I hear you saying you’re trying to be Christian brothers, etc. but coffee is coffee. Just get to know someone and be clear about your intentions. That’s really all there is to it. Girls will appreciate it and it’ll save everyone a ton of time. And both guys and girls should examine every item that’s on their list and ask themselves if their really using the right things to recognize “the one.” Because we could all be missing out on something AMAZING for a really unimportant reason.

Rejection

I recently spoke to a group of teens on rejection. Although this isn’t my actually teaching, it is my presentation. I just thought I’d throw it on here. I talked about what rejection does to us, how it influenced me as I was growing up and how CHANGING my relationship with where I look for love and acceptance changed how I experienced and responded to rejection.

Lastly, I talked about how we can sometimes focus on what appears to be missing rather than the abundance we are given. I went on this crazy back and forth, across-the-globe adventure in August and September. While being single can be hard, and I can choose to focus on how it seems like God isn’t showing up in that space, I wouldn’t have been able to go to all those amazing places and do all those amazing things if I was married with kids.

And here is where I realized: God isn’t saying NO and He isn’t absent; He’s just saying, “Not yet.” God isn’t rejecting me, He’s preparing me. God isn’t telling me I’m not enough, He’s giving me more than I could fathom. God isn’t holding out on me, He’s lifting me up. He’s reaching down and pulling me out of the water. He isn’t saying he doesn’t trust me, He’s asking for me to trust Him.

I gave an example of focusing on lack rather than abundance by talking about how I thought I was SACRIFICING by taking the role I’m in now; that I would have to give up on adventure and travel because of the change in my pay. But God doesn’t operate the way we do and he doesn’t respond in the ways we would think to. Which is why I somehow went to more countries in ONE MONTH than most people do in their LIFETIMES. God gave me abundance where I expected lack and poverty; rejection could have obscured my vision and prevented me from recognizing this. It’s only because I seek love and acceptance from the right places that this lie didn’t take root in me.

https://www.emaze.com/@AORTOZFFL/rejection

He Gives Me His Best

In the story of the prodigal son, I’ve always only identified with the disobedient son who goes off and makes all the mistakes. Somehow, I forgot how the Father responds to this son. Upon the sons repentant return, his Father gives him his best. He throws him a party. And this reveals to the returned son not only the depth of his Fathers love, but also the humility it takes to receive such a love. This is, I believe, how God is responding to my return to him. I just couldn’t see it for a while. I’m still processing through all the amazing experiences God is teaching me through but I think I’ve figured this much out:

1. The more I trust God, the more stunning and joyful my life becomes. It doesn’t mean difficult things don’t happen, but the way I feel and respond to them does. And it’s kind of the best thing ever. Instead of woe is me, I ask myself how is God using this for good?

2. God has crazier, better things in mind for me than I could ever come up with on my own. When I took this new job, so much of my vision was full of the sacrifice I was making versus the opportunities God was creating. I thought I’d lose adventure and travel. Yet somehow I’ve got the most amazing job ever which I look forward to everyday and I’ve had more new experiences in these past 8 months than I usually have in years.

3. God is revealing how this season of singleness has been the best thing He could have done for me. I’ve had time to heal from the past and build better, healthier habits. I’ve learned to put God first rather than making my partner my idol. I’ve been placed amongst men who are protectors rather than predators. I’ve learned how to trust and what I find attractive has drastically changed. I have a blast with kids and have gotten to a place where I know I want a family someday but I can also appreciate what Gods doing here, now. I feel confident that the total transformation of my life these past couple years would not have been possible if I hadn’t had the freedom to fully run after where God was taking me.

4. God’s teaching me how to do relationships, and it’s not weird. Surrendering control and being truly vulnerable is one of the most powerful things I can do. The more I let go and have God lead rather than me, the more I discover about his heart for me. A family that welcomes me to their home and their table. An adventure in Old Jerusalem. Officiating a sunset marriage at an outdoor synagogue in Israel. The blessings of a tearful old woman. The amazing testimony of a Believer facing stage 4 cancer. The company of a friend who balances depth of conversation with silliness and hearty laughter. A roommate and friend who serves as a rock and comforter in difficult times. A closeness and affection with my family (and particularly my sister) that few people possess. And through all these relationships I learn not just what God wants for me, but from me: I continue to become a better friend, sister, daughter and (someday?) wife.

5. God wants my authenticity. He designed me with purpose and delights in who I am. I’ve spent much of my lifetime trying to be what others wanted me to be rather than who God designed me to be. That’s ridiculous. Putting others first doesn’t mean I compromise on who I am; it means I give them the best of myself. Learning the difference between this has been a powerful catalyst for building healthy relationships that leave me feeling known rather than isolated.

Reflections on “Love Does,” by Bob Goff (Part Three)

If you didn’t start at the beginning, I suggest starting at Reflections on “Love Does” by Bob Goff (Part One), although it’s not super important.

Wedding Cake

I used to think being a believer was enough, but now I know Jesus wants us to participate, no matter what condition we are in.

A wedding on a shoestring budget. It might not sound amazing to some people, but it sounds beautiful to me. A family friend cutting them a deal on the cake, the caterer making the best of pasta salad, and his boss hooking them up with a free venue. This is the blessing of community, isn’t it? When he arrived at the reception, Bob saw his high school-aged friend assembling the cake in the parking lot. Four tiers tall, it’s fate was written as soon as he began pushing it across the parking lot on a wobbly AV cart. Responding swiftly, a plan was made, the fallen cake was gathered, and in 30 minutes it was being reassembled with the help of a fresh bucket of frosting. They served it up, tiny bits of gravel and asphalt included.

“Like that cake, my life is full of small rocks, pieces of asphalt, broken and unrepaired relationships, unwanted debris. But somehow God allows us each to be served up anyway. Jesus talked to social outcasts, loose women, lawyers like me, and religious people and said they would not just be so many decorations or window treatments, but He would serve them up as well… The only thing that Jesus said He couldn’t serve up were people who were full of themselves or believed the lie that they were who they used to be before they met Him.” (56-57)

There it is. Conviction.

The lie that they were who they used to be before they met Him. This is a lie that whispers to me in the night, in the times before I speak in front of people, in the moments where I wonder who my friends are and if they care for me. The TRUTH that I am transformed, that I am made new, is one I fight for actively. And I am finally feeling the light of dawn on my face, that I am emerging from a battlefield victorious over this lie. “Yet Jesus continues to select broken and splattered people not just as followers but as participants. He called people like me who can’t even figure out which end of a plastic bag is open His hands, He called people who trip every day His feet, and He called people who can’t figure out which way to turn a screw to tighten it or even stack a cake correctly the ones who would build a kingdom.” (58)

Just Say Yes

I used to think you had to be special for God to use you, but now I know you simply need to say yes.

A story of pranks. Bob pranks a buddy and so, when he gets a call from an ambassador of Uganda, he thinks that this is payback. So he tells the guy yes. I’ll meet you in New York. Hello, adventure. Until the entourage from Uganda pulled up and Ambassador Kamuninwire greeted him and he realized it was real. And the Ambassador introduced Bob as the consul instead of counsel. He had all the paperwork ready to make Bob a diplomat. License plates, clearance, diplomatic immunity. Handed to him after being cleared by Ugandan Parliament and the FBI. “I think God sometimes uses the completely inexplicable events in our lives to point us toward Him. We get to decide each time whether we will lean in toward what is unfolding and say yes or back away.” (64) I want to be someone who answers yes to the adventure God calls me into, without needing all the reassurances and explanations. I want to trust fall into God’s story and be swept away. But there is a doubt in me that wonders how such a God as this could have any use for a person like me.

“I don’t think it was because Moses needed Aaron but because Moses mistakenly thought he had to be somebody important in order to be part of what God was going to do.” (65) And this is the mistake I make; God doesn’t use important people. God makes people important. All the time. Because they all matter to God. “We were all meant to save many lives. God is always trying to save lives, and it seems like He usually uses the least likely people to do it.” (66)

The Interviews

I used to think I had to be somebody important to accomplish things, but now I know Jesus uses ordinary people.

In the wake of September 11th, Bob asked his kids, “If you had five minutes in front of a group of world leaders, what would you ask them to help make sense of life, faith, hope and the events that are unfolding around them?” (68) His seven year old said he’d invite them over. His other son said he would ask them what they hope for. His daughter, the eldest, said she’d go to their homes and ask what they hope for; maybe even do a video interview so they could share it. These ideas were eventually put in a letter that they sent to leaders all over the world. Over the coming weeks the kids received the kindest rejection letters, but they also received 29 invitations to visit various leaders they had written. They hit the road. More often then not, it started with the kids having an official meeting with the leader in an official reception room. Once the leaders realized the kids came with only an agenda to be friends, they’d invite them into the private offices. They’d talk about family and hopes. Bob wrote of one Russian leader, “And with that preamble, he shared his thoughts drenched in sincerity about how a friend knows what you need before you ask. He ended his talk with these words that still ring true for our family. ‘You know what it is about someone that makes them a friend? A friend doesn’t just say things; a friend does.‘” (73) And in the end, the kids got exactly that from this adventure: friends that do. This is the kind of friend I am, and I am blessed to have many friends around me who operate similarly. I have no idea where I would be without them.

There’s More Room

I used to think I needed an invitation to get into most places, but now I know I’m already invited.

Sometimes, we get this strange idea that we have to jump through hoops and navigate crazy twisting mazes to get close to God. We have to have the right clearance, pass the right tests, know the right words and act the right way to “get in.” This is a lie that keeps us distracted and busy rather than focused on the relationship offered to us. “When you read the Bible, the people who loved Jesus and followed Him were there ones like me who didn’t get invited places. Yet Jesus told His friends they were invited anyway.” (81-82) This invitation we receive from Jesus isn’t about being a spectator; it’s a relationship that asks us to love God and our neighbor deeply enough to respond. To get in the game. To invite others to come play with us. “They don’t think about their pain or their weakness any longer. Instead, they think about how incredible a big life really is and how powerful the one who is throwing the banquet is too.” (83) I don’t often forget where I came from, but I do sometimes forget that Jesus invited me to the table when I was there. When so much of the world consumed me, Jesus offered me himself. I drank of living waters that quenched a life-long thirst. I ate a bread that nourished and filled me far greater than anything I’d ever found so far in this life. “The one who has invited you is way more powerful than any of the impediments we think we’re facing, and He has just one message for us. He leans forward and whispers quietly to each of us, ‘There’s more room.'” (83)

Wow, What a Hit!

I used to think the words spoken about us describe who we are, but now I know they shape who we are.

This is basically a reflection on words of affirmations, and how they impact and shape us. “…I do know one thing that works every time-it’s having somebody else say something good about you. I think that’s how we were created, you know, to get named by people this way. I think God speaks something meaningful into our lives and it fills us up and helps us change the world regardless of ourselves and our shortcomings.” (87)

I remember the first time that I had 4-5 people tell me they all believed I was gifted in faith. It made me cry. How could they all be so terribly mistaken? They knew my story, my struggle and yet they look at me and saw… a powerful, uncommon faith. Eventually, through their words, I began to realize that this was a gift that God had given me. I did, however, need others to reveal it to me.

When an ex wrote me this over a year after our relationship had ended, I remember being stunned: “There are so many way in which I know I hurt you over the years that at the time I didn’t even realize did to list and for all of those I am sorry.  I know your love and encouragement were always sincere…I know you’re intentions were always sincere and that most of the time (okay pretty much all) you put me head of everything, which is something that I rarely did for you but that you deserved of me.  If either of us needed to apologize and ask for forgiveness it would never have [been] you.”

Even he saw this in me. These are things my sister has said for so long, as well as close friends and family. But for some reason I couldn’t believe it. I thought that there must be something terribly wrong with me that made me so difficult to love. It never occurred to me that the men I dated didn’t know how to love and hadn’t yet developed the capacity to do so well; it was only through how well I loved them that they discovered it in themselves. I allowed the wrong words spoken over me in times of desperation and anger to shape me rather than hearing the truth that people who knew me well offered.