I hope this doesn’t seem super depressing, but I’ve had a lot of conversations this past week that dive deep into the depths of who we are and what we believe. When that happens I often like to listen to music that goes there with me. These songs don’t need much explaining. The mood, the melody and the lyrics do that on its own.
I remember the first time I “discovered” this song. It was a few years after Tidal came out, I think, and I was in my first real relationship, if you will. I was so sure I loved him, and in a way I did. But we were so incongruent. Our paths were heading in very different directions and I felt as if I had to choose between abandoning someone to their chaos to discover my own answers or… drowning in order to save someone else. This song spoke so deeply to me; that someone out there understood suffering and the beautiful depth it gave to life, as well as what it meant to be with someone who didn’t see it. Who didn’t know that the depth that we love others is the depth at which we might also suffer, and who didn’t believe the price we pay is worth admission. Over and over, I would choose to love at the cost of pain rather than choose to not love at all. I had to believe it was worth it. That it was an essential part of what it meant to be truly alive.
This is not to mean that I believe all love is pain or suffering, but sometimes there is loss, or betrayal, or disappointment. The guy I was with at that time… well, it worked out for the best for the both of us when it ended (I assume). And I’ve discovered there are special people out there who know some of these depths we can reach and choose to let it be something that enhances their life rather than steals it. That makes them treasure even more the shades and shadows, to reach greater and greater heights. As I listen to this song, I remember feeling the way she does at the beginning… “I’ll never glow, the way that you glow…” and I’m relieved I don’t feel that way anymore. More than ever, I feel filled with light. But I believe that is because I have discovered the blessing, the hope, the love in my struggle. As I grow older, I feel like my emotions go deeper, but they are less turbulent. There is a nuance to life that the black and white vision of my youth did not allow. Anyways, I’ve listen to the Tidal album a few times this past week and it’s reminded me of all this and I wanted to log it somewhere.
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.
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.
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)
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.
I love the intro on ODESZA’s A Moment Apart.
“…the cosmonaut decides the only way to save his sanity… is to fall in love with the sound.”
And then… it makes you the cosmonaut. And you fall in love.
If you didn’t start at Reflections on “Love Does” by Bob Goff (Part One), I would suggest starting there. Although it isn’t all that important.
The Rearview Mirror
I used to think I could shape the circumstances around me, but now I know Jesus uses circumstances to shape me.
This chapter starts with an examination of a poor choice for future career paired with the rejection of a girl Bob was in a long distance relationship with and his journey to confront her. As he said, it hurts to come in second (although a large part of her choice might have been influenced by his choice of forestry as a future). Bob writes, “I’ve learned that God sometimes allows us to find ourselves in a place where we want something so bad that we can’t see past it. Sometimes we can’t even see God because of it. When we want something that bad, it’s easy to mistake what we truly need for the thing we really want.” (35-36) We are, basically, talking about idolatry. Anything that supplants the Truth for the image of it. For me, this was my past relationships. I didn’t have God, but that didn’t get rid of my desire to be loved, to understand my worth, and to serve someone. If someone had to be at the center then it only made sense that it would be the man I was with. Now I look back and think what a heavy burden that could be, and how much better it is that I find these things first with God. This idolatry taught me a few things. First, that a substitute is never as good as the real thing. Second, how to love well despite circumstances. Lastly, gratitude for good and kind men. Does a good fruit not taste sweeter once you have taken a bite of one that is bitter and sour? Then I can only imagine that the depth of my appreciation and gratitude for a good man has grown because of my experience with other kinds of men.
Go Buy Your Books!
I used to think God guided us by opening and closing doors, but now I know sometimes God wants us to kick doors down.
Through a series of baffling and misinformed errors, Bob found himself rejected from basically every law school. Nobody was interested. He went to the school he wanted in a week before classes started and made his way to the Dean. He then explained that he applied and he wants to become a lawyer so that he can make a real difference. The problem, Bob explained, was that they hadn’t accepted him and without that acceptance, he couldn’t become a lawyer and therefore wouldn’t be able make a difference. The Dean told him he was sorry and Bob said, “You have the power to let me in. All you have to tell me is, ‘Go buy your books,’ and I could be a student in law school. It’s that simple. You just need to say those words.” (42) The guy smiled and dismissed him. So each day, Bob kept showing up. He learned the Dean’s schedule and was always sitting there, waiting. Reminding him that all he needed to say were those words. Sometimes the Dean would acknowledge him, sometimes he’d ignore him, yet there Bob sat. Until the day the Dean said, “Go get your books.” The amazing thing about this story isn’t, to me, Bob’s sheer perseverance. Or the Dean’s grace and mercy. It is how Bob, afterwards, took a particular joy in doing the same for other students who now sit where he once sat. Sometimes we need to kick doors down, and sometimes we need to remember to hold the door open for others.
I used to think Jesus motivated us with ultimatums, but now I know He pursues us in love.
Thus, we arrive at Bob’s love story. He saw Maria and recognized his wife. She saw him and… forgot about him. Love is funny like that. Sometimes it takes people some time to see what is right in front of them. He saw his Maria right before Valentine’s Day. In a misguided attempt to woe her, he made a card he could barely fit into the elevator and delivered it to her. At work. She was mortified and gave him a polite distance for the next six months. That’s when he had the brilliant idea of leaving sandwiches under the windshield wipers of her car. Which is also weird. “Fortunately, Maria understood that for some of us-most of us-the language of love is laced with whimsy. It sometimes borders on the irrational. Like I’ve been saying though, love is a do thing. It’s an energy that has to be dissipated.” (49) Ultimately, three years down the road, we arrive at the proposal. By this point, she had learned his weird was harmless and most likely has just as crazy for him as he was for her. He set up a dinner across the street on a roof top. “When Maria and I finished diner, I got down on one knee and asked, ‘Maria, will you…’ Then the emotion of the moment was just too much for me and I couldn’t talk anymore. As has been one of Sweet Maria’s many outstanding characteristics since-she helped me to finish what I had started, and said, ‘Yes.'” (51) What can I say to this? Such is the weirdness of love, that it makes us do odd and awkward things. Things that get each others attention and leads us, eventually, to the place where the attributes we treasure most are those odd behaviors we recall with affection. Maybe that’s just me? I far prefer the things which make a person unique from others rather than the attributes they share with the breadth and depth of humanity.
Continue reading at Reflections on “Love Does,” by Bob Goff (Part Three).
I’m With You
I used to want to fix people, but now I just want to be with them.
This chapter is about a super cool dude that was in Bob’s life named Randy. Although he had awesome things like a motorcycle, the most amazing aspect of his character was that he was committed to being part of Bob’s life. So when Bob decided he was going to travel across the country to pursue his dream, Randy picked up his things and went. It was only when they returned that Bob glanced around and saw partially opened wedding presents. Being freshly married didn’t stop Randy from being the person Bob needed. My favorite thing about this chapter was the response of Randy’s wife. It wasn’t anger or resentment; it was the response of a woman who had a heart for the same things her husband did, and embraced the cost that sometimes comes with it. Presence over preaching. People will eventually ask about your “why.” But they need to know who you are first.
I used to think I had to act a certain way to follow God, but now I know God doesn’t want us to be typical.
This chapter is about a guy he knew who had a sweet pellet gun, way cooler than Bob’s BB gun. One thing led to another, they began shooting at each other, and Bob got shot. It was awesome. “I liked how Doug did life. He was full of adventure and always had some wonderful mischief in mind… Doug began telling me the story of another man of adventure named Jesus, who lived a long time ago.” (12) This really spoke to me, because I sometimes feel pressure to conform to what “looks” Christian rather than the person God made me to be. Not the sinful parts of me, but the parts of me that God designed into me that don’t match the cookie cutter picture of Christ follower. “He spent time with the kinds of people most of us spend our lives avoiding. It didn’t seem to matter to Jesus who these people were because he was all about engagement. That’s one of the things I saw in Doug. I liked that Doug could be friends with Jesus and still shoot pellet guns.” (12) And this is who I have a heart for; the people the church sometimes talks about but rarely engages with in community. I need to be less worried about what Christians think of me and embrace who God made me to be.
Ryan in Love
I used to think being loved was the greatest thing to think about, but now I know love is never satisfied just thinking about it.
Young and in love. It’s a magical time full of whimsy, hope and believing that it will all work out. Why wouldn’t it? Ryan is a young man walking by Bob’s house who eventually introduced himself and proudly announced he was, indeed, in love; and he wanted to use Bob’s house to propose. Bob writes, “I was taken aback by this love-glazed kid who would approach a complete stranger and ask to use his house to stage a great caper. But that’s the way it is when you are in love, isn’t it? All he knew was that he wanted the girl and was going to do whatever it took to get her.” (18) His ask grew to include a dinner on their deck, catered by 20 of his closest friends, dancing afterwards and ultimately, a ride on Bob’s boat. Bob, swept up in the excitement of Ryan’s love, said yes to everything he asked for and planned a surprise of his own. It went beautifully, and of course the girl said yes. “Ryan’s love was audacious. It was whimsical. It was strategic. Most of all, it was contagious. Watching Ryan lose himself in love reminded me that being ‘engaged’ isn’t just an event that happens when a guy gets on one knee…Being engaged is a way of doing life, a way of living and loving.” (24) It is loving with abandon. It is fully participatory. It is a perfect example of true humility and hope. This kind of love brings us all joy and reminds us to worry less about ourselves and more about how we are loving others well. This is how I felt at Mario and Lauren’s wedding. I had the opportunity to be part of something beautiful, and everyone did something to help add to the occasion. In the end, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a more beautiful or perfect wedding than theirs and it gives me hope that someday my story might include that same kind of love and joy.
I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.
Bob got a job and put in a lot of time to become a waiter at a super fancy restaurant where you had to wear a tux to be a server. On his very first night he described an event that had me laughing to the point of tears. In short, he was fired on the spot, not even earning enough money to pay for the tux he had put a down payment on. Failing can suck. It can be hard. But it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. “The thing I love about God is He intentionally guides us into failure. He made us be born as little kids who can’t walk or talk or even use the bathroom correctly. We have to be taught everything. All that learning takes time, and He made us so we are dependent on Him, our parents and each other.” (29) This is an expression of God’s love and patience. It is a reminder that, as much as we might like to, we can’t do it our own. And really, we don’t want to. We weren’t designed for that. “God finds us in our failures and our successes, and He says that while we used to think one way about things, now He wants us to think another way about those same things.” (30) Fortunately, I’ve failed a lot. So much. And so I’ve learned to see every failure as an opportunity to learn something new, to laugh, and to maybe not make the same mistakes again. I also know that oftentimes my failures are a result of me NOT relying on God and my community enough, that my failure is the result not of ability but of stubbornness. #PlacesToGrow
Continue reading at Reflections on Love Does by Bob Goff Part 2