Love Is Hard

“You can’t sit here anymore.”

My seventh grade brace-faced, frizzy-haired self felt that plummeting, sickening feeling in my stomach.  Rejection.
“Why not?” I asked the girls who were supposedly close friends.
“We have boyfriends, and you don’t.  This is a ‘boyfriend only’ table now.”

Occurrences like this one happen so often that comedy movies are made to record the culture of junior high and high school.  But to the person they happen to, there is nothing funny about them.  Fortunately, we matured out of our 7th grade days, and many of us remained friends through high school.  But I still remember what happened.  Not because I want to relive junior high, but because I ache for fringe people, people who hang in there with a group and are never quite accepted.  People who seem, well, lost.

I thought when I left adolescence behind that mean girls would be left behind, too. I was wrong.  Insecure teens grow into insecure women.  I was one of them. Whether it be the unheard thoughts of criticizing a woman for how she looks or the somewhat intentional shunning of one who hurt our feelings or not reaching out to someone who is different or we just don’t want to take the time to bring a woman into our private circle, we all have the potential to be a mean girl.  Mean girls cross socio-economic and racial boundaries.  In other words, mean girls aren’t just rich and beautiful or whatever mold we create for them.

Only the power of a relationship with the living Christ can truly change us.  When we give our broken pieces to Him, when we rest in the power of purpose…His purpose…we can love with abandonment.

Isn’t that what Jesus did for us?  Love with abandonment?  It started with His birth, really.  He gave up His rightful place in heaven to become Immanuel, God With Us.  Fully human and fully divine.  And then He submitted Himself to God the Father’s purpose, which was to go to the cross for us.

I have been through times when friendships were hard to come by and mean girls flourished in abundance.  God wants us to be women of grace, not girls who are mean.

Women of grace reach out in the power of love even when it’s out of their comfort zone,  rather than finding protection in numbers.

Women of grace work out differences when they’ve been hurt or offended rather than shunning the offender.

Women of grace help each other grow, as people, as Christians, as mothers and wives, as leaders, even when it involves loving dialogue that is hard.  Mean girls use the faults of other women to feel better about themselves.

Women of grace recognize their own needs for forgiveness and readily forgive others.  Mean girls find reasons why others don’t ever deserve forgiveness.

Yes.  Love. Is. Hard. Let’s be women who love with abandonment and forgive the past.  Even yesterday can be a past that sets the course for a future we regret.


Bragging Rights

Hundreds of thousands of wooden pylons constructed from a type of wood that resists water decay support one of the most famous landmark cities in the world, Venice, Italy.  St. Mark’s Square, The Bridge of Sighs, gondolas and their navigators, the Grand Canal remind us of this unique European treasure.

One of the most famous icons of Venice is one many may not know originated there.

            The mask.

            When we come to Christ, we are invited to take off our mask.  But do we exchange the mask that the world gave us for another mask – the one that says we have to have it all together as a Christian?I whispered into the darkness from a college bunk bed at the age of 20 and asked this God Who Was There to make Himself at home in my broken heart and soul.  A couple of short years later, I decided to forego my major and go on staff with a Christian parachurch organization when I graduated from college. While going through summer staff training, I shared with others at the dinner table about how I came to know Christ, the pain of growing up with an artistically-gifted and beautiful mother who was sometimes mentally ill and the quicksand of emotions our family dealt with, often closing myself behind doors of performance-based expectations.

A teacher interrupted me.
“I wouldn’t share that with too many people. That might be too much information.”  Confusion pulled my soul in opposite directions – self-protected or God-protected?  How could I help others if I was not vulnerable in trusting God with the past?
            In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul writes this profound verse:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.  Therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest on me.”
Read it  out loud (I promise, it will only seem strange once.  There is nothing better than speaking the Word wherever we are)!  Do you hear the truth?  When we glory in our weaknesses, Christ’s power rests on us.  Let me say that again.  Christ’s power rests on us.  Strangely and sadly, our culture perverts the truth by telling us that power comes through hiding our shortcomings.  Culture twists this thing called power and goes even further to tell us we must exalt our strengths and play on other’s weaknesses.I don’t know about you, but boasting happily about the weak parts of my character or my life is not a natural thing.  I’ve often played a kind of Christian game with God, myself, and others.  I imagine I’ve appeared pretty foolish to not only God but also to a great number of people.  The more we try to hide our flaws, the more we reveal them.

Paul never details his weakness for us.  Instead, he’s the Paul we know and love and He exalts Christ alone.  We don’t always need to share all the messy details.  We should pray for discernment. But we can draw attention upward by being an example of God’s grace to the imperfect.

Do you send out a Christmas letter?  Have you ever gotten the one that was basically a brag sheet (we could call it a glory sheet as well) and gushed something like this?  ”And my 5 year old Susie got her PhD in Molecular Biology from MIT.  Johnny got a 4.0 and a full-ride scholarship to 1000 universities.” (I may or may not have sent one similar.)  The best Christmas letter we ever received? From a family that listed things like how many pairs of underwear their dachshund ran off with and how many dinners were burned.  Do you know why we loved it?  Because they shared from the imperfect of that place called home and made us laugh in the process.  We could relate.  Whew…mask OFF.  Paul relates that kind of Christmas letter with us.

Breaking the strongholds and chains of our past can only happen when Christ’s power rests on us,  literally in the Greek, His power “tabernacles over us.”  CHRIST is over us.  Because CHRIST IS THE TABERNACLE.  The second half of that verse is almost like a double affirmative.Do you see?

“Christ’s power, Christ on me.”

Christ’s power, Christ on YOU. What chains bind you?  Do you hear them breaking as His holy self covers you?

God broke the chains of my mask. The more that I know and love this God in Three, this God with a personality, the more I trust Him.  And the more I trust Him, the more I know He covers me.  As He covers me, I can reach out to others from the protection of His covering.

Untie the ribbons that hold your mask on.

And glory, sister.  Glory.