The Actual Point of Life

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I’m on the verge of learning something incredible about God.

He’s been leading up to this for a while; I can feel it. At least, I hope I’m right.

My mom went back to school for a degree in counseling, and she needed someone to discuss a book with her: With. Yes, the title is only one word long. I’m a little judge-y about the author’s choice of words because, in my opinion, he’s trying a little too hard to be trendy. You don’t need to perform linguistic acrobatics to reach young Christians. But anyway, the basic idea of the book is that God doesn’t have an agenda other than being with us — hanging out with us — having a personal relationship with us.

It’s too good to be true.

But I think, maybe, it is.

 

Part of the book that really blew me away talked about God walking through the garden with Adam in Genesis. Suddenly it occurred to me that we don’t see many descriptions of Heaven in the Bible, and the ones we do glimpse are tough to understand because of the imagery and mystery. In the beginning, though, we find one clear and simple picture of what it should have been like between us and God. And the picture is this: God and mankind going for a walk in the garden together.

I don’t know if this hits you the way it gets to me because it seems so crazy, so unimaginable, that God would want to be with us like that. No goals. No needs. Just walking along together. And if that’s how things started out … then isn’t that where things are eventually headed again?

 

There are so many amazing implications about going for a walk in the garden with God because the experience will look a little different for everyone. Some people will want to talk to God, others to be quiet and simply look around in wonder. Still others will want to get to work, plowing the earth and making things grow, and He’ll enjoy every moment with every person. There’s a huge amount of garden to explore and so many thoughts to think and personalities to uncover and questions to ask, and all along He just wants to be with us.

It makes me want to cry. Not sure if you understand what I’m starting to grasp because I probably still have a lot more to unearth on this particular topic. God obviously does have goals and plans and a grand direction, an elaborate story to tell, but the end game is presented right there in the beginning of Genesis: going for a walk together. And what a walk it will be!

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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P.S. I’d love to hear what you think because this idea seems fragile in my heart, like I’m still struggling to believe it could really be true that God would want us. Do you agree?

Why I’m Thankful for Mood Swings

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I haven’t been my best self lately, and I’m searching for the silver lining.

As usual, my husband has borne the brunt of my instability. I’ve had extreme mood swings for weeks — no, I’m not pregnant — and a few embarrassing low moments that shone an unwanted spotlight on my ugly side. A couple of counseling sessions later, I’m learning to remind myself in those dark places that my emotions are not my husband’s fault. My heart is my own responsibility.

Then, driving home from work the other day, I saw a house decorated with rainbow Christmas lights.

This probably sounds silly, but my whole body relaxed into happy enjoyment. I really, really like Christmas lights. When I got married on January 2nd, my mom asked the church to leave up the lights after Christmas so I’d have them for my wedding. Seeing those lights from my car the other day pulled me out of a spiritual stupor long enough to appreciate my surroundings.

Sometimes I hate my own feelings because they have the power to paralyze me, but I believe that God gave us emotions to reflect part of His character. He has big feelings, too. Maybe when I experience emotions more intensely, I can also love Him more deeply. Certain Bible verses mean more. Some church services hit harder. Everything makes me cry, so I might as well cry about Jesus.

Everything makes me cry, so I might as well cry about Jesus.

I never want to put too much stock in my emotions because they often lie to me. Sometimes I need to remind myself that I’m only grumpy because I’m hormonal; my boss isn’t actually being unreasonable; my husband doesn’t actually hate me; I shouldn’t completely unravel. Still, big emotions have their place in the Christian walk. Don’t they?

Thankfully, all of this craziness on my part hasn’t made my husband bitter against me. He’s so willing to forgive. I will continue to try not to blame him for my feelings. At the same time, I did allow myself to feel big emotions at a Christmas concert tonight. After all, as the singer reminded me, the same Jesus who held babies in his lap will also descend from heaven with a sword coming out of his mouth. That’s worth being thrilled about!

Lord, use my weakness to clear the cobwebs from my heart so that You may take up residence there. Put my unstable, fickle feelings to use for Your kingdom. Thank you for Christmas lights.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately find joy in them; if you embrace them, your faith will blossom under pressure and teach you true patience as you endure. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line — mature, complete, and wanting nothing. – James 1:2-4 (The Voice Bible)

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Tell Yourself Something True Today

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Today I feel overwhelmed by the apparent chaos in the political sphere.

Normally I don’t pay much attention to politics, other than the limited and heavily biased information that I glean from my coworkers, but I recently spent nearly an entire workday watching the live, televised streaming of a hearing before a Senate committee for a Supreme Court Justice nominee, and since then I have read countless headlines and innumerable strings of social media commentary, and I feel afraid.

I don’t know anything about the judicial system, but it appears to me that a man’s future is currently being determined, not by any sort of reasonable process, but by the uninformed opinions of millions of Americans like myself. Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps justice will prevail. I hope so, whatever the truth may be. At the moment, though, my mind and body are faltering beneath the burden of uncertainty.

Probably I am behind the times, and you have been experiencing this oppressive, panicky feeling about our earthly system of government for years. Most likely I’m naive to argue, “Surely there’s a way to know who’s telling the truth. There must be!” All I know is that I need something to be true, absolutely. On my brief jog around the pond tonight, trying to calm my hectic thoughts, I searched for something undeniable — something unchangeable — to which I might cling for solace. Here’s what I came up with:

There is a God. He loves me.

I need something to be true, absolutely.

Those two statements remain true whether I believe them or not. Tomorrow I might change my mind about God’s character, but He would still love me. You might try to tell me God doesn’t exist, but you would be wrong. Some things are really, really true. Lots of other things are undeniably true, too, but those two have imprinted themselves on my heart like a brand. No matter what happens, there is a God, and He loves me.

Psalm 46 says, essentially, the same thing. No matter what terrifying and confusing events surround you, God is with you. He will prevail in the end. He will not let you fall. He’s much more powerful than the natural world. “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (vs 2, NIV). I just have a slightly different way of expressing my confidence in God’s immutable character:

There is a God. He loves me.

We can, in fact, know some things for sure. We don’t need to walk around in a cloud of confusion, wishing for something solid on which to stand, feeling desperate. I simply needed to turn my gaze toward the rock instead of staring at the sand. My heart feels calmer tonight. “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells” (vs 4).

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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The Danger of Needing to Be Right

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Last night two young women knocked on my door to talk about Jesus Christ.

They introduced themselves with the word “sister” in front of their names. They seemed earnest and polite, so I didn’t mind speaking with them initially. I assured them that I already had a close, personal relationship with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. They wanted to know if I was active in my church, and I said yes. Then they asked which church I attended. The conversation became significantly more awkward from there.

Clearly, I wasn’t the right kind of Christian.

Clearly, I wasn’t the right kind of Christian.

They eventually presented me with the Book of Mormon, along with a tract that probably originated in 1990, judging by the clothes of the people featured in the photos. They insisted that the Book of Mormon was the Word of God, equal in value to the Old and New Testaments, and they informed me that Joseph Smith was God’s prophet to America.

I told them that I thought they were very brave to knock on strangers’ doors and talk openly about their faith, and after they left, I read the tract in its entirety.

Those girls didn’t make me angry, but that tract certainly did.

How dare Joseph Smith claim that he has the corner on the gospel. How dare the Church of Latter-Day Saints dismiss most of church history as “apostasy.” Most importantly, where did the followers of Jesus Christ get the idea that we need to be right?

I had a lot of issues with that tract, but the question that bothered me most pertains to all Christians. Does it really matter if people believe the “right” things?

Does it really matter if people believe the “right” things?

No.

We seek truth; we debate; we discuss; we learn; and above all we love. We try to discern the character of God in order to offer Him the Worship He deserves. We ask humbly for Him to align our characters with His. We serve; we encourage; we struggle; we pray. We share the gospel with other people because we want the best for them. We cry with the psalmist: “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him” (Psalm 34:8, NIV). We have seen His transformative work in our own lives, so we want to spread that joy to others.

Why did those girls talk to me? What did they want? Only God knows their true intentions, but at the heart of Joseph Smith’s message seems to lie one nefarious assertion: I am right. May all Christians examine our motivations immediately, trembling lest we discover in our own hearts the urgent desire to be right. All day I have been asking myself, “Why do I want to share my faith with others?” If I’m honest, I’m not sure that I like the answer.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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Daniel Swanson Photography

An Object in Motion

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One healthy habit encourages another.

I decided to try cutting desserts out of my diet for a time, and initially the idea seemed daunting. Honestly, I doubted my own self-control. Once I had determined to begin, however, my coworkers’ treats in the breakroom no longer held any allure. I didn’t agonize over the question of whether or not I should grab a donut at church because I had already made up my mind to refuse.

In her study on the book of Daniel, Beth Moore says this about the word loyalty: “It’s something we already were that surfaces in the test.” The original Hebrew word involves a certain amount of “initial preparation or formation,” meaning that an act of loyalty stems from previous resolve, not a spontaneous decision. In other words, what we set out to do affects the end results.

Loyalty is something we already were that surfaces in the test. – Beth Moore

For a few weeks, desserts held no power of distraction or temptation for me. The simple mindset, “I’m not doing that right now,” protected me emotionally and mentally. For someone who does not typically exhibit much self-control around sugar, the power of prior determination came as a surprise. Best of all, I began to find other small acts of discipline easier to accomplish.

Not only did I successfully eliminate ice cream, cookies, cake, and candy from my diet for a number of weeks, but I also began to run the dishwasher more regularly and keep dirty clothes inside the laundry basket instead of tossing them onto the floor. Astonishingly, I even considered continuing the habit of avoiding desserts after my period of abstinence had ended. Instead of feeling burdened by the challenge, I felt motivated to reach for higher goals.

I didn’t make it all the way to Easter without desserts, but I’m delighted by the discovery that a little self-discipline generates a little more. Hopefully some of the practices I have developed over the past few weeks will continue long-term. Even if they don’t, I feel empowered to know that the Lord Jesus has designed my spirit to want more of something good.

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life. . . .For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control. . . .For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. – 2nd Peter 1:3-8 (emphasis mine)

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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My Never-Ending Migraine: A Summer of Grace

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This has been the summer of doctors for two reasons:

  1. I’ve been mooching off my dad my entire adult life, and since I’m about to turn 26 and lose his excellent insurance, I’m trying to fit as many appointments as possible into the next few months.
  2. The first week of May I got a migraine that never went away.

Every year I get a couple of migraines that begin with vision loss in my left eye. If I lie down quickly in a dark place and take ibuprofen, I typically escape the terrible pain that other people describe. This time, though, the visual aura lasted way longer than usual.

After about a month of shadows across my vision, I visited my family practitioner. (I had already seen an ophthalmologist prior to the migraine, so I knew my eyes weren’t the issue.) She sent me to get an MRI. When the MRI came back normal, my mom made an appointment with an OBGYN in case my symptoms related to a hormonal imbalance. The OBGYN referred me to a neurologist. At this point I had spent a fair amount of money to discover that I am, overall, an extremely healthy person. Go, me.

Just when I started to wonder, “How much do I really need my left eye, anyway?” the Neurologist, an adorable Asian woman, informed me calmly that I have been experiencing a continuous migraine for more than three full months. Now I’m on a daily regimen of natural supplements, and she asked that I up my cardio workouts to three times per week. Supposedly it will take 4-6 weeks to get my brain un-stuck.

I think God weakens our bodies sometimes because he wants to take care of our hearts.

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I think God weakens our bodies because he wants to take care of our hearts.

My entire life, the Lord has treated me with such tenderness, but I don’t notice until my physical capacities fail. The most vivid illustration occurred during my semester in Oxford, England, when I nearly collapsed beneath a burden of crippling anxiety.

I remember sitting with my back against the door of the shared bathroom on my dormitory hall with my knees drawn to my chest, trembling with sobs. The strain of an incredibly difficult academic semester had kept me from sleeping; I had lost so much weight that my clothes had started to fall off; and an ocean separated me from the people who normally calmed me down. I had reached the end of my ability to “push through.”

Suddenly, just moments after whispering a desperate prayer, a physical tingling sensation washed over me from scalp to toe. I had never felt palpable peace like that before, and about a minute later I realized that I had stopped crying. The light buzzed above my head while I rested my chin on my knees, completely calm.

He’s so gentle, friends. When my emotional turmoil reaches the breaking point, and my body buckles beneath the weight, He cradles me. This summer His hands have appeared in the form of bosses who remain lenient with hours missed due to doctors’ appointments, family members who sit with me in waiting rooms, kitties who purr on my chest, and paid sick days that give me time to sleep.

Maybe I needed this migraine to remember how much Jesus cares for me.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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You have not given me into the hands of the enemy but have set my feet in a spacious place.
 – Psalm 31:8

Known

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For Memorial Day weekend I bump along a dirt road to my parents’ mountain home where my mom and I sort bookshelves, stacking piles for me to take home.

Among them we discover journals stretching back to my seven-year-old self. Much to my embarrassment, my mother begins to read passages aloud — but before long we’re both laughing in delight at the memories. We even call my aunt on the phone to relay our favorite segments from our trip to Scotland, funny encounters with natives I had forgotten. To think I nearly told my mother to throw these books away!

It’s a steady, secure feeling, being known. Almost every time my mother and I survey the past together, whether through photo albums or scrawled notes from my younger years, I reconnect with this person named Marie — the girl captured in ink and graphite — and remember that she is someone worth being. Breathing the air of today, riding the current of daily events, trapped in the thoughts of the moment, I tend to forget. [. . .]

I’m honored to be featured on Greer Ohara’s lovely blog, Stories Toward Wholeness as she explores the concept of identity. Please visit her page to read the rest!