Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Why I Stopped Hopping on Hashtags

Today is one of those days - the kind where it seems like the whole world is talking about something controversial, politically charged, heartbreaking, game-changing, or all of the above. Today is one of those days - the kind where hashtags are being hopped on, viral articles are being shared, viewpoints are being defended, and devil's advocate costumes are being donned. Today is one of those days - the kind where my heart yearns to say something of significance about a trending message, my soul cries out for Truth to be revealed, my eyes beg to shut out the headlines, my fingers ache to dim the bulbs of enlightenment for just a minute. And yet in this culture of social media activism, this I know: no matter which side I take or what I have to say, any words I hitch to a hashtag will ultimately become nothing more than sound bites in a cesspool. Everyone talks on social media, but does anyone really listen? Can hearts and minds and opposing viewpoints be changed if I craft the perfect counter-sentiment in 140 characters or less? More and more, social media just seems like a bunch of people jumping en masse off the proverbial bridge, silently screaming at each other as thumbs fly across iPhone keyboards all the way into the abyss. More and more, I see that labeling my heart cries with a hashtag only kindles whatever fire I'm trying to extinguish. Social media has given everyone a voice and a platform from which to share it. But in the cacophony of opinions, so often I feel that I've lost both. This thing that was meant for connectivity has turned into a pit of controversy, and we're kidding ourselves if we think much ground is going to be won in a Twitter war. So what do we - those of us who have so much to say, but seemingly nowhere safe to say it - do? Go silent? Delete our accounts? Pay to promote our own beliefs via a social media campaign, then watch in horror as the truths we hold dear are ripped to shreds by hate, vitriol, and a hefty dose of sarcasm? The Bible says the following: "Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces." (Matthew 7:6) I could get really arrogant and self-righteous by interpreting that verse to mean something like "I'm a pearl and they're all pigs." But y'all, God is so good. Here's what His Word says right before bringing on the bacon: "...how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye." I can pour all of my passion into fighting humans on a hashtag, or I can give that passion (that angst, that righteous anger, that fill-in-the-blank) to my Heavenly Father and ask Him to equip me - despite my brokenness, my hypocrisy, and my plank eye - to love the humans who agree with me and the humans who don't in the same way that He has loved me. I can also get on my knees in prayer and ask for walls to come down. I can ask for veils to be torn. I can ask for eyes to see, ears to hear, hearts to know, minds to understand. Most importantly, I can have peace in the knowledge that I don't have to fight any battles - social media or otherwise - like a rogue soldier, all on my own. My message is His inerrant Truth and perfect Love; my platform is my salvation story and continual experience of the Lord's grace. Those are my words that matter; that is my safe place from which to share them. "Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. For the Lord Most High is awesome, the great King over all the earth." (Psalm 47, NIV)

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Introducing our brand new travel blog!

Hello friends! If you just so happened to stop by today, I hope you'll pop on over to the brand new travel blog my husband and I started together. Things have been a little quiet on this blog lately, but that doesn't mean it's going away - for now, we're just investing a lot of time and energy into work for our clients, finishing up our business site, and documenting our 2.5 month backpacking trip through Europe! Hope you'll join us.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Position Paper: Yes, Jesus Loves Me

Over the past few days I have seen Christianity labeled as a "hateful religion." I cannot perform religious apologetics, but I can share what I know to be true on a personal level. And that's this: When I was at my weakest, my worst, my lowest, Jesus Christ gathered me in His arms and He loved me. When I felt that my mind was decaying; when I feared that I was literally at my wits' end due to incapacitating anxiety and deep depression; when I couldn't catch a glimpse of a brighter future due to the pain of the present, He showed Himself to me. He overwhelmed me with compassion. He set my feet on the Rock (Psalm 40:1-2). He gave me a look at how He sees me. He reminded me of who I am through His Word and the words of other believers.

I have given Him imperfect love and divided attention. I have tried to earn and to prove my own righteousness; I've put my accomplishments on a pedestal and yearned for the glory that can always and only be His. I have failed and I have fallen short, but never once has He turned me away. My Father loves me. He provides for me. He protects me. He sets me free, directs my path, and despite my complete inadequacy and inability to love Him back in the way that He deserves, He calls me His beloved (Song of Solomon 6:3). This is the God I serve and desire to emulate. These are the characteristics I long to embody. I don't serve my God perfectly, but because His perfect Son took my sin on His shoulders, I get to wear Jesus' perfection (John 3:16). I am covered by it; dressed in it; arrayed in a splendor not my own (Isaiah 61:10). The only response to the love I've been shown is to give love in return, first and foremost to my God and Savior, and second, to everyone else He created. "We love because He first loved us." (1 John 4:19)

Debates and rants and questions of "why" and misunderstandings and hurtful accusations fold together into something that feels a lot like chaos, and nothing like "love winning" anything at all. God is Love, and furthermore, He is Light—"in Him there is no darkness at all." (1 John 1:5) I pray that His light shines through me, emboldens me, and attracts others to the God I serve rather than turning them away. I cannot speak to the grossly inappropriate presence of hatred in various forms throughout the history of institutionalized Christianity, but I can confidently proclaim that hate has no place in the relationship I've found with Jesus Christ, and will have no place in me as I continue to serve Him through and in and during whatever lies ahead.

. . .
Psalm 40:1-2 "I waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure." 

Song of Solomon 6:3 "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine; he browses among the lilies."

John 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."

Isaiah 61:10 "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels."

1 John 4:18-19 "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because He first loved us."

1 John 1:5 "This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all."

Monday, June 1, 2015

Another Ending to the Story

While scrolling through social media yesterday, I came across a story about social media. Not "How to Use Instagram to your Best Advantage" or "Build a Bigger (and bigger, and bigger) Following With These Five Tricks," but "Split Image"—the story of a star athlete who portrayed a perfect life on Instagram, but internally struggled with anxiety and depression so deep that, eventually, she took her own life. A friend had tweeted a link to an associated video interview with the following endorsement: "This is the most important thing you'll see today." I clicked.

He was right. It was important for me to hear and to read Madison's story, mainly because it could have been my own. In the article, Madison is described like this:

"Madison was beautiful, talented, successful—very nearly the epitome of what every young girl is supposed to hope she becomes. But she was also a perfectionist who struggled when she performed poorly. She was a deep thinker, someone who was aware of the image she presented to the world, and someone who often struggled with what that image conveyed about her, with how people superficially read who she was, what her life was like."

Instagram wasn't around during my freshman year of college, but Facebook was. I remember uploading entire albums of photos that showcased the glamour and excitement of my new life in California. Edited pictures on the beaches of Malibu, dinner at Geisha House (Ashton Kutcher's restaurant!) in LA, walking with friends along Hollywood Boulevard. I looked so happy. But I was functioning like a shell, or a robot. Completely numb, going through the motions without emotion. I was achieving and interacting, but doing so was like an out-of-body experience. Because despite the images I was showcasing and the things I was doing, I was shouldering a debilitating load of anxiety and—although I didn't know it until a year later, when I finally opened up and told someone that something wasn't right—depression.

During that time, I remember feeling that it was a victory if I could claim even three seconds of mental peace without a searing thought burying into my mind and forcing me back into a cycle of irrational fear. I was sure that I was broken, that I was losing it, that no one had ever been through what I was going through, that everyone else was happy and healthy but me, and that no one would love me if they really knew what I was going through. I called my mom one day and told her I wanted to die. Not that I wanted to take my own life, but that I just didn't want to live anymore if this was who I really was. I told her I thought I had a brain tumor, and that I hoped I did. It would at least be an explanation for the mental anguish I was living with day after day after day after day.

That summer when I came home from college, I went to the doctor to prove to myself that I actually did have a brain tumor. Instead, I came home with a diagnosis of depression. In the state I was in, that felt even worse. I had no explanation for the torment I was living under other than my own mental weakness—or at least that's what I thought at the time. Like Madison, I said to my parents, "I just want to sleep."

And I did. For 14, 16 hours a day sometimes. For a season, it's like my body shut down to protect me from my own mind. But then, slowly, three seconds of mental peace became three minutes. Three days. Three months. I went to counseling and I didn't stop. I opened up about the depth of my pain and confusion, my sorrow over the fact that my "perfect life" had disintegrated so suddenly. I talked to my parents, to pastors, to my sorority. I told people that everything wasn't okay, that I needed prayer. Even still, I didn't understand the shapes my anxiety took for a long, long time—it took the personal, healing touch of Jesus Christ on my life to show me once and for all who I was again, and that didn't happen until almost three years after the whole thing first began. 

Oh, those three years of waiting for complete healing were hard. They were isolating, and dark, and confusing, and terrible despite the good things that still continued to happen all around me. I wouldn't want to go back to that place, not ever. But praise be to God, I don't dwell there anymore. And praise be to God, I can talk about those years without fear anymore! As I read Madison's story yesterday, I wanted to shout these truths from the first available rooftop! I wanted to hold this precious girl in my arms and tell her, "Listen, take it from someone who has been there. Our identity is in His righteousness, not our perfection. We will get through this. We will feel again, we will love, we will get married, we will go on new adventures. We will wake up without heaviness, without fear of fear. Our battle with anxiety and depression wasn't an internal weakness, but an external battle against the enemy of our souls who wants to steal, kill, and destroy. We have something to keep living for. We have Someone to keep living for."

I wanted to tell her all of these things, but it's too late for me to reach her. So I say it and share it with anyone else who might come across these words—all these dark things that I sometimes want to pretend never existed at all, because I can't feel them anymore. I dig into the old pain and share it because of this:

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

I have received this comfort! This life-giving, life-sustaining comfort! And so how can I hold it in, keep it to myself? I have to extend it, have to tell all about it, have to let others know that there is hope and healing and fulfillment of promises; that the darkest night masquerading as an ending can truly be the very beginning of the best part of the story.

"We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on GOD, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us." 2 Corinthians 1:8-10

There is freedom! There is life lived abundantly! There is constant and continual Love, despite what we've seen, known, experienced, thought, feared!

"Who are you...that you live in constant terror every day because of the wrath of the oppressor, who is bent on destruction? For where is the wrath of the oppressor? The cowering prisoners will soon be set free; they will not die in their dungeon, nor will they lack bread." Isaiah 51:12-14 

I share Madison's story in part, but my battle with anxiety and depression has another ending. If you're there today; if any part of you can relate to looking like you have it all together but feeling broken inside, I charge you with this: Don't give up. Don't keep it all in. Don't pretend everything is okay. Don't stop asking for a healing touch, or waiting on the Lord's promise of deliverance. He will come through not because that's what He does, but because that's who He is.

"If I should say, 'My foot has slipped,' Your lovingkindness, O LORD, will hold me up. When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul." Psalm 94:18-19

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Two-Toned Breakfast Smoothie (Because healthy things taste better when they're pretty)

I'm an occasional healthy eater at breakfast time. Occasional meaning that I wake up famished every morning, and if I can't get something nutritious prepared and into my mouth within five minutes I'm going to eat cereal or an English muffin covered with Nutella, which is so NOT part of a balanced breakfast despite the commercials that show it paired with a tall glass of OJ. Anyway, that's my explanation for why I've been Pinterest-searching so many healthy smoothies as of late. 

Two recipes recently caught my eye (both were featured in this article by Glitter Guide), but neither of them were EXACTLY what I was looking (i.e. I didn't have some of the ingredients immediately on hand). So I tweaked and combined, and here's what I came up with.

TWO-TONED BREAKFAST SMOOTHIE (Because healthy things taste better when they're pretty)

Bottom 1:  The Mean Green
  • banana (I use unfrozen bananas because it makes the smoothie creamier)
  • about 1 cup frozen spinach
  • about 3/4 cup frozen mango (this is where the sweetness comes from)
  • almond milk (I always eyeball this—just make sure you use enough to keep your blender from sticking)
  • ice chips 
Directions: Put all ingredients into blender and let the machine do its thing. When everything is smooth and combined, split the mixture between two tall glasses. Be sure to stop when the glasses are half-full!

Note: I suggest storing your half-filled glasses in the freezer until the top layer is finished. Keeps everything from getting melty.

Top 2: Pretty in Pink
  • banana
  • 5-6 whole frozen strawberries
  • 1 heaping tablespoon almond butter
  • almond milk
  • ice chips
Directions: See above and repeat. Y'all know that I KNOW that you know how to use a blender. Pull your glasses out of the freezer and fill to the top. Stick two really cute + patterned paper straws into your smoothies in order to take a picture for Instagram, then remove them because they're kind of hard to drink from and get soggy when they sit in your smoothie for two long. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

What if I cared as much about ISIS beheadings as I do about the fact that there are two Bachelorettes?

Last night I watched the finale of The Bachelor, which is hilarious since I didn’t watch a single episode of the regular season. But whatever. My friends are in town, so it was a girls’ night thing.

Let’s just skip all the blah-blah-blah and get to the outrage I felt when Chris Harrison announced that there will be two Bachelorettes next season. Having sat on the bench for the entire season, I watched “After the Final Rose” as a mostly disengaged viewer until THAT MOMENT. The one when Chris said, “We just couldn’t decide which girl to pick, so we thought it would be so much fun to pit two women against each other and allow men to decide which one has the most potential to be a wife,” or something along those lines. 

 I thought it was sexist and demeaning. But don’t just take my word for it. Take my Twitter.

In the middle of this Twitter rampage, my husband asked me why I felt the need to hop on a hashtag and engage with complete strangers about a topic that doesn’t really affect me in any way, shape, or form. What a ridiculous question, right? I have a voice! I need to be heard! But what it really boiled down to is that I felt like the issue mattered. I had visions of rallying a bunch of women together to boycott the show, or convincing the Bachelorette(s) to drop out. I felt almost impassioned. And then I thought, “Why doesn’t the fact that ISIS is beheading my Christian brothers and sisters stir up this same level of emotion in me?”

So I paused. And I stilled. And I thought about writing this blog, and I thought about all the words I would use to demonstrate how deeply this realization had impacted me. But then I got distracted by another thought about that very same post going viral because of the timeliness of the topic, which would lead to an invitation for me to be on a talk show to discuss everything further, of course.

I hate that all of that’s true, but it is. I hate that an announcement about a reality television show moved me to step on my tweet-box and preach, while an article sent to me by my husband titled What ISIS Really Wants had been in my inbox since February 18, and remained unread until last night. I hate that in the middle of the many horrors and moments of crisis that are real and active around the globe, I care about hashtags and the reach of my own voice, even though as a believer in Jesus Christ, I proclaim that to live is Him and to die is gain—that the purpose of my life is to bring Him glory and not myself. I hate that the prospect of having two Bachelorettes made me verbalize the question, “What is this world coming to?” while believers around the world are facing persecution, and famine, and danger, and nakedness, and the sword for the sake of loving and knowing and serving Christ (Romans 8:35).

I want to wake up. Finally reading the aforementioned article was a big step in that direction, but I want to do more. I want to stop caring about things that don’t matter. I want to stop expending my time and energy and thoughts and efforts—all the best of me—to further things that are temporal and bound by this earth. Namely, myself. I can stop comparing and contrasting my Instagram feed and counting my Twitter followers for long enough to care about deeper things, realer things. I know I can.

I’ve been uneducated and uninformed. I haven’t felt like the existence of ISIS affected me personally. It’s felt distant and removed—another horrible series of tragedies in a faraway place that I am helpless to fix. Maybe our generation is immune to understanding the threat of an organization like ISIS because since 9/11, we’ve seen Terror Alerts indicated on our television screens in much the same way as an ozone warning. Orange today. Don’t go outside. Red today. Don’t breathe.

Whatever it is—the root cause of the fact that I was rocked by the “two Bachelorettes” announcement and yet, until recently, unmoved by the growing presence of ISIS—it’s not okay or excusable. I want to be informed about what’s going on in the world not for the sake of being informed, but for the sake of seeing things as they really are. I don’t have to fixate on disaster or fear the end of the world (Proverbs 3:25-26), but I must and I will acknowledge that there are things happening outside my bubble that require that I stay awake. I think I'll have more to say on this one day, and I hope I do. But for now, that's all I've got.

Share this post if you want to. Don’t if you don’t. But do join me in thinking about what matters, and what it really means to be like Jesus in this mixed-up, crazy world—“the very last, and a servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)

. . .

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14

For further reading, see this blog posted on Happy Sonship.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Best Place to Be

Ill-equipped. Under-prepared. Lacking confidence. Unsure.

This doesn't sound like the best place to be. And yet, so often, I've found that it's exactly where I am and how I feel when God is about to move in ways that surpass everything I could ask for or imagine (Eph. 3:20-21).
I think Joseph could probably relate. He was thrown into a pit and left for dead because his brothers were jealous of the favor their father had shown him. Then he was picked up like garbage and sold into slavery. I don't know about you, but that would shake me up. Cause me to question a few things. Like, everything.

Joseph could have given himself up for dead; he could have doubted his abilities and his dreams and his identity and the truth of the love he'd known while in his father's household. And yet, Joseph proceeded to become one of the highest ranking officials in all of Egypt. Did He face continued challenges? Yes. But was he ever abandoned? No. He stepped into the calling the Lord placed upon his life, and the Lord delivered him and equipped him and blessed him and set his feet upon a rock again and again and again. (Full story here.)

I haven't done a scientific study on this or anything, but based on experience, being the best, knowing it all, having the right connections, and overflowing with confidence are not necessarily prerequisites to or indicators of success. Almost every time the Lord has done something incredible in my life, I've entered into His calling with fear and trembling. And not the holy kind. More like the "I have no idea what I'm doing/What if I made a mistake/Did I hear Him wrong/Is something bad going to happen?" kind of trembling that makes you want to quit the game and wash your hands and throw in the towel and all-those-other-cliches that are basically just temptations to give up on living the life that is truly life.

But here's the truth: the Lord is not limited by our abilities, experience, courage, aptitude, or lack thereof. In fact, I believe that He works best when we're at our weakest—there's more room for His glory to shine because we KNOW we can't take credit for what He has accomplished. Walking in the unknown forces us to rely on His lead. Stepping into a position that's above our experience-level demolishes pride. Not having all the answers requires us to throw our cares and concerns and questions upon His throne.

If I had given in to fear and doubt, I probably wouldn't have moved to France, started my first job, left that job to marry my husband and start a business together, published a book, and so on and so on. I would have missed out on a lot of great experiences. More than that, however, I would have missed out on living life to the fullest. Hearing my Savior's voice. Relying on Him alone. Seeing Him come through in ways that can only be defined as miraculous. Walking on the heights and knowing it's by the power of Jesus Christ alone that I've been placed there. 

beausoleil, france
You and I won't always be the most equipped. We might not have the "right" degree or the necessary connections. We might not be the best one on the team. We might sweat until our skin turns into a salt lick and shake all the way down to our toes as we step up to the plate, but if God is for us, then truly...who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

My husband always says that if one decision requires faith and the other doesn't, we should always move in the direction of faith. I couldn't agree more. I also say that if we're tempted to pass on an opportunity due to fear (of failure, of inadequacy, of not measuring up, or of whatever), we should probably shout "Cannonball!" and make a splash into the unknown.

. . .

"The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." Deuteronomy 31:8

"For not in my bow do I trust, nor can my sword save me. But You have saved us from our foes...In God we have boasted continually, and we will give thanks to Your name forever." Psalm 44:6-8
Karley with a K. Todos los derechos reservados. © Maira Gall.