Dear God, Thank You

More times than I would like to admit, I catch myself only praying when I want something. I pray when I’m struggling. I pray when I need hope or insight or direction. I pray when I am feeling sad and defeated. And God is always there… even when I am not giving Him the recognition He deserves during the good times too.

So, for all those times I forget to be grateful, here are my reminders:

Thank you for this body.

I forget what this body has accomplished when I look in the mirror and cringe at my reflection. I forget about its physical strengths and unending ability to overcome obstacles and push past fatigue. I forget the countless minutes taken to train for races, the breathless hours of shuffling an elliptical, the strain taken to lift heavy barbells. The many sicknesses defeated. The dings and bangs that happened as a child and helped shape my adulthood.

Not everyone has the luxury of beginning and ending workouts on whims. Not everyone has the luxury of their bodies self-healing against diseases or the ability to find alternatives to better their health. Not everyone has the ability to take a step or lift a finger or see the wonderful colors of a sunset.

For the many intricate nerves and veins and muscles within me, thank you. Thank you for every scratch and stubbed toe and quickened heartbeat. Thank you for this beautiful body that allows me to move through life whole and explore the world which You’ve created.

Thank you for the broken and lonely hearts.

Many were the nights where my pillow was drenched with tears. Those nights I didn’t think I could get over him, or when I felt misunderstood, or where the future was a bleak glimmer on the horizon. I have felt heartbreak through loss of love, loss of friends, loss of endeavor, and loss from death. Each loss caused a new crack in my heart, some so deep that I feared how it could ever be mended. And with the heartache came loneliness. Loneliness that caused questions about who I was and what I wanted and what I deserved.

At the time, those broken and lonely hearts felt unfair. I turned my back to you countless times, crying out as to why I had to feel the pain and the loss and the unending questions. Yet through the heartbreak and my unwillingness to listen, You somehow taught me some tough lessons. Specifically I learned how to be whole. Whole through You.

Thank you for showing me how to heal. How to be on my own. How to find strength in my emptiness and build myself into a stronger, more complete woman. Thank you for your patience with me and for never turning your back on me, even when I did so to You. Thank you for leading me through the losses that felt like betrayals, and continuing to lead me through the losses that still house grief. Thank you for showing me the difference between temporary and everlasting.

Thank you for unanswered prayers.

Similarly, when I look over my past, it amazes me how many prayers prayed were left unanswered. Things I yearned for, people I desired to keep in my life, plans that came and went… all left in my past. It has taken me several “No’s” and plain ignorance to realize that those prayers would not have played out to the greater scheme You have designed for me.

So thank you for having a plan greater than anything I could ever imagine. Thank you for the blessings in disguise and not being my genie to grant my every wish. Thank you for the quiet shaking of your head as I cried myself to sleep begging to have my way.

Thank you for forgiveness.

Sometimes I really suck at being a Christian. I swear and I gossip. I question You and the plan for my life. Sometimes I’m selfish and ignore situations I know I should confront, choosing laziness over what is right and just. Sometimes I go weeks without opening a Bible, or sleep in on a Sunday morning, or wonder if you’re even listening when I finally remember to pray. Yes, sometimes I truly am a terrible Christian.

There are times when I let the negatives of life crush my spirit. I try to stay positive, but sometimes I fail. And in those failings I might lash out or live with spite or rage into a fit. I’m not always good at being good.

Yet You are always there, ready to forgive me. When I catch myself living a life that let’s You down and know that I’ve screwed up, You still love me. You provide me healing and bring new beginnings. Thank you for pulling me back to my feet when I am down. Thank you for accepting me as your sinful creation and still calling me Daughter. Thank you for the rainbows during storms and the peaceful stillness I receive while in your presence. Thank you for showing me unwavering love and always providing a way for me to start again.

Thank you for growth.

It is never easy to admit when I am wrong. But there are so many opportunities for me to do so. Throughout the years, it seems as if the cloak to my imperfections has slowly lost its opaqueness and my eyes are more open to the faults in my character. And with that awareness, I can actively navigate how to become a better version of myself each day.

Through the pain of my past and the promise of my future, attempting to find the energy to grow has become simpler. I may falter sometimes, but I am willing to admit those failings and account for my actions more readily.

Thank you for your assistance in rebuilding my heart, body, and soul back to their full strength over the years. Thank you for showing me how beautiful life can be when I let go of attempting to be perfect and embrace my imperfections. Thank you for your healing. Thank you for new hopes. And thank you for the many opportunities to begin anew.

Thank you for the unending blessings.

I keep a running gratitude corner in my planner. Each new week, I write three things that I am grateful for and try to focus my intention on thanking God throughout the week. Sometimes that gratitude is for nice weather, a loving partner, an accomplishment at work. Other times my gratitude comes from sore muscles, the lack of busyness, or learning of something wonderful happening to a friend.

Blessings come in a variety of forms, and it has taken me far too much time to discover this information. As previously said, some blessings are from loss, grief, pain, and God saying, “No.” Other blessings are more obvious such as a gift or kind gesture.

Whatever the form of my blessings, I am thankful, Lord. Thank you for your ending care and gifts of what I truly need. Thank you for knowing my innermost desires and fulfilling them as You know is best. Thank you for allowing me physical blessings as well as spiritual. And most importantly, thank you for your Son and the promise of eternal happiness following this already beautiful life.

Thank you for continuing to take me back, take me in, and take me for who I am.

I get lost in my thoughts often. Am I a good person? Am I doing what I should? What is my purpose in this life? Sometimes I lie to myself. Sometimes I fight an internal battle against what I think versus what I know to be true. I beat myself up mentally. I berate myself. I get discouraged and depressed. Then my mind does a somersault and I begin to think clearly again. I am not perfect, and that is something I will continue to wrestle with on a daily basis. Yet I know, deep down, that perfection is not necessary.

Like I’ve admitted, sometimes I am not a great Christian. I try to be a good person. There are times when I’ve tried to turn my cheek, hold my tongue, live with kindness rather than spite. I try to think of others before myself and remain positive. But often times I fail. I’ve lied and told people things they want to hear rather than the truth. I’ve been selfish. I’ve gone into rages. I’ve allowed my emotions to take over my better judgement.

Nonetheless, there You are, taking me for all my imperfections. You pick up my swearing, vengeful spirit and whisper calming words to my soul. You provide love and light in the darkness and remind me of who I am in You. Thank you for always picking me up when I fall. Thank you for your presence. Thank you for sending your Son to die for me and erase all my sins. Thank you for not giving up on my brokenness.

Thank you for your unending, unconditional love. Thank you for leading me to find wholeness through and in You.

Thank you, Lord,

 

Saying Yes & Following The Path Of Fulfillment

I have been struggling lately. I have been struggling with the question, “Who am I?” There are so many possible labels: a wife, a friend, a Christian, an advocate, a member of my community, a woman, a dreamer, a runner, an organizer, a finance assistant, a blogger. Yet when I consider those labels, I don’t feel I embody any of them completely. I have this unrelenting  want to add the word “BETTER” before each title. I want to be a better wife, a better friend, a better Christian, etc. All at once. All together. All to perfection. And as I wonder about who I am, I begin to feel overwhelmed with disappointment at my elusive potential.

That is where my biggest struggle lies: in the want to be “better” than how I perceive myself. Focusing on that want which seems so unfathomable, unapproachable, and unreachable, I recognize I am viewing my life from the base of a gigantic mountain. I can see multiple trails I could claim as my path, each with a directional sign reading who I yearn to be. Yet I feel if I choose one path, then the others will go unaltered. Never being explored, never being grown, never being conquered.

Smarter hikers than I would venture down a path to see where it leads and then retrace their footsteps to explore another trail. Stronger hikers than I would choose one path, complete it, and return to the beginning to begin anew. Not me though. I want to take all the paths at once without giving any specific label up. All or nothing is what I felt was necessary to give my life meaning and purpose.

I found myself praying at this multi-directional trail head for weeks. How could I be a better wife while simultaneously attempting to be a better friend and a better runner and a better active member of my community? There did not seem to be enough minutes in the day or energy in my body to keep up with everything necessary to make me into the person I felt I needed to be.

Then Sunday happened.

It amazes me in the ways God can speak to me. He either gives subtle nods that have me constantly second guessing if I’m reading the signs correctly or He drops something so obvious into my lap that I’m left dazed at my own ignorance.

Sunday’s sermon was that mountain being dropped onto my head, dazing and enlightening me into shame of my own stupidity.

A guest pastor gave the sermon. He was a director at Life Action Ministries, an organization that believes in calling people to authentic Christianity in order for the gospel to shine brightly out of lives transformed by God’s presence and power. He spoke about the brokenness of our world and the effects of sin on society. He talked about renewing our spirits to revive not only ourselves, but the world as a whole. And his method of doing this was by saying “YES!” to God every single day.

The sermon as a whole was specifically aimed towards saying “Yes” to God when it came to our faith and spiritual well-being. This pastor spoke on topics of selling ourselves short when it came to being followers of Jesus and how our actions today effect a number of outcomes tomorrow. Spiritually, I needed to hear this message because I am constantly worrying if I am a good enough Daughter of Christ.

However, the message hit me in all aspects of my life.

I began to see my life as a series of Yes’s and No’s. Sometimes I chose to say Yes to a path of my own and rely on myself to not trip on the obstacles along the way. Yet looking back, I know that when I chose to say Yes to the paths God directed me towards is when my life truly flourished. My best Yes’s were those where God led me!

One prime example of these differences in Yes’s were when I was led out of my pre-House lifestyle. House, as some of you may remember, is my young adults Bible study group. Prior to House, I had focused mainly on drowning my unhappiness with late nights and a careless attitude, dating the wrong people because I lacked knowledge in what I deserved, and caring more for earthly matters than my eternal soul. I sought pity. I sought relevance. I sought anything than what I had been taught through my Christian upbringing truly mattered. I was choosing to say Yes to an overgrown, boulder-strewn trail. I didn’t like who I was becoming, but the thought of turning off-course to a path of revival was scary. I felt I would be heading into that unknown alone, and I knew there were a lot of burning bridges to be mended before I could make it to the summit.

When the time came that I finally realized I no longer had the strength and endurance to cut my way through the briers of my own path, I turned to God. I knew I needed to go down the path of revival, but I also knew I couldn’t lead myself. Life Action puts the Path of Revival in good terms: my first step was to find humility. Then honesty, repentance, forgiveness, and obedience. None of these were easy obstacles on my own, but by saying Yes to God and His leadership, I began my journey.

And following God brought me to a beautiful clearing of my life.

I earned friendships with the most honest and supportive people imaginable. I went through many trials that ultimately grew me into a stronger and wiser individual. I faltered many times, turning back and looking at the path I once walked, but I never turned to salt. Instead, I might trip and scrape my knee, but I picked myself up and endured the pain until finally the summit of that stage in my life was reached.

Nonetheless, the mountain continued ahead, and life went on. I hadn’t reached the end. Instead I was given the option of continuing to say Yes to hiking up my current course or choosing another path. Free will is a gift from God, after all, and the choice was mine to make.

In the same way, sometimes I said No to paths I knew were the Godly direction and chose to go my own selfish way. And though those No’s brought a lot of growth and wisdom through life lessons, they also brought a lot of hurt and sorrow.

One such No was when I wanted to keep walking my current course, but there was clearly a blockade in the trail. God kept subtly giving me signs, but I shook my head No at Him and continued up anyways. I was in a floundering relationship where I provided support with hardly any in return. The trail I was attempting to climb was turning to sand and washing away under my feet, but I fought to move forward still. There were no tree branches to help pull me upward, there was no covering to protect me from the headwinds. I kept saying No to the signs God was handing me and instead tried to force love and adoration and respect into a relationship that never was bound to have those emotions reciprocated. I gave more and more of my heart until I had no more to give, and I came tumbling down the mountainside when the rainstorms finally gathered and let loose.

It’s amazing how when you allow people to make more withdrawals than deposits into your life, how out of balance you will find yourself. You get to a negative space and you’re not sure how to “close the account.”

For me, when that unhealthy relationship ended, I found myself knocked out of breath from the avalanche. My heart was hardened from the fall. My happiness and willingness to listen to God ceased. My negativity was at an all-time high when I was at an all-time low. I felt isolated in my situation, feeling heavy emotions of depression and hatred for everyone involved. I chose to be a victim of the mountain, and I blamed everyone involved including God.

But He wasn’t who led me on that path, was He? No, I had chosen not to abide by His clear signs stating “Trail Closed Ahead” and wandered forward on my own. Looking back, it is so clear the paths He meant for me to follow instead. I stuck to my own crummy intuition though. I made excuses. I tried to convince myself the path was not as bad as it really was.

After the tumble down, I tried to shake myself off. I tried to be strong on my own. I defiantly began climbing a path of Self-Yes. I clung to other unhealthy relationships like a lifeline, I relied on pills and drinks to numb the pain, and I made decisions unfamiliar with my character for the sole purpose to hurt those who hurt me. I wanted to do what I wanted to do, and my situation became worse due to my own leadership. My life became a dark, sunless void as I went further and further into the forested hills that I was creating for myself.

It wasn’t until I turned back to God that my life made a drastic change. (Surprising, right? If only I had remembered my lessons from previous “No Times” as well.) As I said No to my selfish path and Yes to God’s directions, I began to find rays of sunshine again. A light through the treetops showed roots to step over so I wouldn’t trip. A clearing brought warmness and happiness and laughter. The forest was dying away and I could see the next summit for which I was aiming. It was obvious that following God meant a life full of love and contentment.

And so I continued to say Yes to Him.

Life was great, and I believed the reason wholeheartedly was relying on God to direct me. I centered my life on Philippians 4:8:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.

By taking the examples of what a God-pleasing life entailed, I attempted to live by this passage in my thoughts, words, and actions. And I found peace.

I know that if I had chosen to say No to reconciling with God, I would not be where I am today. God not only led me to a healthy and complete relationship with G, but he led me to stronger relationships with my family and friends. I was able to see those who were meant to be a part of my life and why I needed to close the accounts with others. My career flourished, my other responsibilities and hobbies blossomed, and I found contentment in the person I was. I loved myself and I was eager for the future God had awaiting me.

Transitional periods are tough though. I reached the summit of that beautiful hike on my wedding day. Since then I have found myself again struggling with my image.

Who am I?

I’m now a wife, but I find struggle in claiming that as my only label. As someone who once was overwhelmed with all her hats being juggled, that addiction is a hard thing to break. I sometimes find myself feeling guilty that I have “down time.” I knock myself for not jumping to return text messages to friends. I put myself down for not writing a blog post every day or allowing my workouts to go by the wayside. I want to be a great wife, but I also want to be a great blogger and runner and friend and, and, and…

It took the sermon on Sunday to remind me that maybe that’s the problem though — struggling with perfection rather than stopping to listen my Lord. Maybe I am confusing fulfillment in my life’s goals with contentment of the here and now.

I think it is time to readjust how I view myself and glorify God in all He has provided me.

Let me be honest with you, I had a breakdown a few weeks ago where I questioned what my purpose was outside of being a wife. I had put so much focus on preparing for marriage before the wedding that all other hobbies and past times were thrown to the curb. Now that life has gotten back into a routine, though, I realized I missed having things to do aside from making dinners and cleaning the house. Not that I feel any of my wifely roles are beneath me or not valuable, but because I feel I need to juggle more responsibilities to be valued in other areas of my community other than just my home.

I want to be relevant to more than just my family and friends. I want to be relevant to the world.

This is not something I believe is uncommon for a newlywed. After the excitement of the wedding, there are the slow times when you are attempting to distinguish your new self. While focusing on being the best spouse possible, you also want to remain an individual. I don’t think that want is a terrible thing, but I do realize it is not always inline with Godly ventures.

Sometimes a person falters as a newlywed by shifting too far to one side or the other. You may focus solely on being a spouse and lose yourself and the plan God has for you. Or you may focus too much on remaining an individual and not put in the effort necessary for a functional and lasting, God-pleasing marriage.

The key is to find a balance.

After Sunday’s sermon I realized that I am not reaching that balance and that I am selling myself short.

Who says I am not a good wife? Who says I am not a good friend? Who says I am not good in any of my roles except for my own sinful mind?

God led me to where I am today. He led me into my role as a wife, and He also led me into the role of being a finance assistant and a lifestyle blogger and a cancer awareness advocate.

In the same way, there were roles He told me to step down from because He knew I was becoming overwhelmed, tired, and distracted. Being the person I am, quitting anything, even for the sake of my health, is giving up. I disappoint myself by backing away. But God told me No for some responsibilities I felt compelled to complete. And it was when I listened to Him that my life was revived.

The roles I have in my life have continuously been rejuvenated. I excel, I receive praise, and I get promoted. Sometimes it is like a light is switched on in those areas, and I could trek full-steam ahead into unknown territories without any fear. And it seemed that even when I was hiking down one path, the others I simultaneously needed to focus on interwove with my current track. As I hiked the “wife path” those of friend, Christian, advocate, and others joined the route of my next big expedition.

So why should I not listen now to all the Yes’s He has before me? Why am I struggling with my current roles and wishing for even more to cascade down onto me? Why should I not strive to find fulfillment where I am so that I am prepared for what He has coming around the bend?

Today I say I will.

I say Yes to what is before me and I say Yes to being content with who I am right here, right now.

I choose to say Yes to God in performing my current duties to impact myself and others in a positive way. I choose to say Yes to God in finding fulfillment with who I am right here, right now. I choose to say Yes to God for the plans he has ahead of me and to lead me to the best outcomes possible in an unknown future.

I choose to say Yes in loving where I am and who I am right now, and trusting in God to mold me into a better version of myself each and every day. His purpose comes first, and everything will fall perfectly into place as I move forward in His peace.

Climb the mountain, not to plant your flag but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air, and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.

For those interested, here is the sermon as a whole for those who would like to witness this powerful message also:

Happy hiking, my friends, 

10 Rules of Christian Dating and Why He’s Not “The One”

I’m a Christian, in case that hasn’t been clearly stated yet, friends. I’m a Christian who values her faith and Lord above all things, but I am also human. I ache to love and be loved in return by those I can physically embrace. I’m beside all the people in the world looking for a place to belong, a group to belong to, and a person to make my life better. So when it comes to dating and looking towards the future, my thoughts are a jumble of what I need, who I like, and how the two can intertwine into respect for my faith. I’m not the type of girl to believe there is only “One” person out there for me. I believe there are many people who fit the bill and who are compatible with my beliefs. This fact makes dating even more difficult though… or does it?

A friend of mine posted this article on Facebook a few days ago and the first time I read it through I was like, “Yeah. He is so right. This is what I feel.” I mean it, the entire article speaks so perfectly on my beliefs and morals and faith it’s almost spooky. It is a discussion on society’s views for dating, a personal view of dating, and God’s call for dating. Considering these 10 rules might just make things a little bit easier for those needing the strength and guidance. So for those of my readers who are Christians, I urge you to read through this article. I know it has some length, but Frank’s words are true, justified, and right on point.


Originally posted on To Save a Life:

It is time for Christians to start talking about dating. The trajectory of lives and eternities are in the balance.

“Careful, there, cowboy. You startin’ kinda strong!”

Yes, I am. Church, this issue shapes our young people, friends, and family more than we could ever imagine. And we have been passive too long. “Let’s just sit back and see what happens” might work in certain scenarios, but Christian dating isn’t one of them.

Establishing principles for Christian dating could set men and women on a course towards Christ-centered marriages. Laying out guidelines for dating as followers of Jesus could alter the lives of men and women by keeping them out of toxic and unhealthy relationships (and ultimately marriages).

Most importantly, guidelines and principles for dating could transform lives and shape eternities.

So, this is incredibly important. And we have a responsibility as men and women of God to be pro-active. But we can’t be pro-active unless principles are established. So, I am starting the conversation.

I hope and pray the words from this post will spark further conversations in your ministries, relationships, and homes. Here are 10 really important principles for Christian dating.

1. Stop looking for “The One.”

“Frank, how will I know when I find ‘the one’?”

You won’t. Mostly because “the one” doesn’t exist. The truth is you could spend your life with more than one person. If you need to take a minute to let that sink in, I will be here when you get back…

…Alright, glad you returned. Here’s the deal: God doesn’t set up marriage as a divine lottery where every person has one winning ticket. That would make God a gambler, and the Bible clearly says gambling is from the devil (only joking). But “the one” very much paints God this way.

Look, marriage isn’t as much about finding someone totally compatible as it is about committing to someone despites difficulties and differences.

“The one” says you need to find the perfect person. And discovering one flaw means it’s time to move on.

But the beauty of marriage is God sustains you despite your flaws. The brokenness you see in yourself and the brokenness you experience from your spouse point both of you to the only perfect one, God.

The brokenness in a marriage should point you to the only perfect one, God.

2. Date with a trajectory toward marriage.

This quote sums it up:

Dating without the intent of getting married is like going to the grocery store with no money. You either leave unsatisfied or you take something that isn’t yours. Jefferson Bethke

That’ll preach right there. If you are a Christian, there is no reason to date without a trajectory towards marriage. Now, I want to clarify what I mean.

If you are a Christian, there is no reason to date without a trajectory towards marriage.

Dating with a trajectory towards marriage means dating with a purpose. It means dating with an understanding of the gospel. It means dating someone who meets the values and goals you have for a future spouse (more on that later).

Casual or purposeless dating has no benefit for Christians. We are intentional beings. We are designed to know why we do stuff and where we are going. Dating is no different.

Now, please, please, please don’t be a freakish weirdo. Dating with a trajectory towards marriage doesn’t mean you only date one person ever. That would be awesome, but it’s not always realistic.

You might get into a relationship with someone who loves Jesus, meets the values you have in a future spouse, and is compatible with you. But once you get into the relationship, you realize things aren’t as they seemed. Maybe they like to cuddle with cats or something. That’s always a deal breaker.

Just end the relationship, and continue to seek the Lord.

Disclaimer: A date is not dating. Again, please don’t be a freakish weirdo and give Christians a negative label. Having coffee or going to eat dinner with the opposite sex is not dating. That’s a date. Dating is more intimate. Dating involves D.T.R talks. It involves sharing personal struggles and vulnerability.

So, if you choose not to get coffee or watch a movie with the opposite sex, then whatever. But don’t place that expectation on others.

3. Don’t date non-Christians.

The ultimate purpose of marriage is sanctification (becoming like God). So, my question is, “How does dating a non-Christian aid you in this?”

If you are a Christian, God isn’t a piece of your pie. He is the pie. Why date someone who doesn’t even have God as a piece of the pie?

My wife loves the Lord, and I can say with all certainty I wouldn’t be following Jesus without her. There will be days when life is crashing down, your faith is wavering, and the only thing left will be your spouse. This is the beauty of a sanctifying marriage. In this scenario, your spouse is there to pray for you, put his or her arm around you, and walk with you.

Without a Christian spouse, one of two things will happen: you will drift away from God or your spouse will become a functional god (more on this later). Both of these are bad.

Without a Christian spouse you will either drift away from God or make your spouse a functional god.

There is another dangerous mentality in Christian circles I want to address…”flirting to convert.”

Look…Christians are called to be missionaries. The dating world, however, is not the place to be a missionary. Don’t allow pride to deceive you. You can’t change someone. That’s God job.

So, date Christians. Marry someone who loves Jesus. And spread the gospel as missionaries together.

4. Have a list of values and don’t compromise them.

If you have no idea what values are important to you in a future spouse, exit the road to marriage at the next off ramp. Pull over at the closest gas station and decide what you want in a future spouse. It’s dangerous riding on the road to marriage without an idea of where you are going.

Now, when you form this list, don’t be legalistic. Don’t sit someone down on the first date and interview them to make sure they meet all of the qualities. That’s freakish, weirdo stuff. Again, don’t give the rest of us bad name. Your list is designed to give you a framework for dating, not be a checklist for it.

On the other hand, don’t compromise. Your heart and the holiness of marriage are too important to flippantly give away because you are frustrated, impatient, or settling.

One more thing: have primary and secondary values. And filter appropriately.

Let’s practice. If you believe God is preparing you for foreign missions, is it important the person you marry shares this passion? Yes…this is a primary value. If you love the Cowboys and your future spouse loves the Packers, is it important to work through this before marriage? No…this is a secondary value.

Primary values are probably deal breakers. Secondary values are probably not.

5. Don’t “shotgun” date.

Ever handled a shotgun? If not, let me fill you in. The shells of a shotgun are stuffed with tiny round balls. When you pull the trigger, these balls spread over a large range, increasing the chance you hit the target. It’s great for hunting…it’s terrible for dating.

“Let’s see. I am going to ask 20 people on a date. Five of those should be keepers. Hopefully one will end up as my spouse.”

Not a good idea. I fear this mentality in the dating culture is actually promoting divorce. Let me explain.

The culture says, “Date around. It’s okay. Get to know yourself.” And as soon as the person you are dating smacks his or her gum the wrong way, you are out. So, the default for years is to leave as soon as a flaw arises. Suddenly, when marriage begins, you are asked to flip a switch.

You are asked to go from a mentality that says “End a relationship as soon as difficulty arises,” to one that says, “Don’t end the relationship regardless of the difficulty that arises.”

That’s a tough switch to flip. Date with a trajectory towards marriage. Date intentionally.

6. It’s OK to want to get married.

You desire marriage. Praise God. He gives you the desire. Let me prove it.

The first instance in the Bible where God is not pleased comes when God sees Adam living in the Garden of Eden alone (Gen. 2:18). God knows it is not good for man to be by himself. Enter Eve, pro-creation, and marriage (not necessarily in that order).

People are created to be in community. And the most intimate community on earth is the relationship you will have with your spouse. So, pray for God to send you a spouse. But don’t allow the desire to consume your life.

Be patient. Wait on the Lord. If you are confident God called you to marry, he will deliver.

7. It’s OK not to get married.

While marriage is a huge sanctifier, it is not something God says is mandatory. If you aren’t ready for marriage, or if you do not want to get married, you are not sinning.

I am fearful the Christian community has irresponsibly coerced men and women into marriage through cultural pressure. There must be a secret bylaw passed down from the early church fathers, but once you reach the age of 25 you will be asked the question almost weekly…”When are you getting married?”

Can you imagine how constantly hearing this question from friends, family, and unsuspecting old ladies at church can make some people believe they have a problem?

If you aren’t ready to date, don’t allow the cultural pressure to override God’s plan.

Disclaimer: If you are single, understand it is your responsibility to steward your time well. Singleness is a gift from God, but singleness is not an excuse to be lazy. It is an opportunity to serve the Lord.

8. Have a community of Christians around you and listen to them.

Don’t date alone. This sounds lame. But so is marrying a sleezeball.

When you date, allow the community of people around to speak into your relationship. Your feelings can deceive you. Your friends are able to see inconsistencies and problems you can’t because they are outside the storm.

I know too many men and women who refused to listen to people around them, and their prideful arrogance resulted in a failed marriage. Don’t fall into this category. Find men and women you trust, and allow them to speak into your relationship.

9. Pursue a pure mind.

“Sex before marriage is bad.” This was the extent of my understanding of Christian dating as a teenager and young adult.

And to my church’s credit, they drilled this one point home constantly. Like that annoying kid at church camp that wouldn’t leave you alone.

I heard don’t have sex before marriage so much I actually believed getting to marriage a virgin was the only important thing. The problem? In the process, I filled my heart and mind with lust, and I secretly struggled with pornography. Big uh oh.

What the church needs to teach is the importance of a pure mind. This requires discipline, restraint, and abstinence from activities that don’t promote holiness. But the sacrifice is worth the prize.

A pure mind might be the greatest gift you can give your future spouse. It allows you to jump into marriage with a clear conscience. No baggage. No comparisons. No regret. Just you, your spouse, and God.

A pure mind might be the greatest gift you can give your future spouse.

Don’t ever date someone that won’t honor purity with you. Ever.

Remember…If you are dating, you have not entered into the sacred bond of marriage. You have not made covenant vows to one another. So, the person you are dating is not yours.

Practice purity. But understand purity begins with the mind and heart.

10. Don’t date if you are dependent on someone for things things only God can provide.

If I could get on my knees and beg you to follow one of these principles, it would be this one. Dating and marriage are not for those who rely on another person for joy, peace, and purpose.

Co-dependent dating leads to co-dependent marriages. And co-dependent marriages will eventually crumble because the weight placed on them is too heavy.

God must be at the center of your life before you consider dating. If not, purity will take a back seat. Dating towards marriage will take a back seat. In fact, every principle discussed in this article is null and void without God at the center.

Don’t start dating without an assurance of God’s love for you and a solid understanding of the gospel.

I hope this discussion continues. I pray parents, church leaders, friends, and family begin to spark conversations about God’s design for dating.

I believe these principles could change lives and alter eternities. If you want to share a story or have a principle to add to this list, leave a comment below.

I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!

This article was originally written by Frank Powell on January 21, 2016.

The View From Here

Excuse me while I get philosophical for a moment…

Today my church’s sermon was a discussion on the beginning of the world and what belief in how Life began pertains to your life in the present world. The discussion led by Pastor Dave was one which moved me so completely that I actually brought out my phone during the sermon in order to take notes for this post. This is something I can honestly say I’ve never done before; I have never felt the desire to actively scratch comments on a sermon so to better understand, remember, and reiterate at a later time.

This sermon, though, was breathtaking. I found myself nodding at his words, marveling at the statistics he researched, and even had tears in my eyes at one point because the story he told was so relative it hurt my heart.

To begin his sermon, Pastor Dave requested we consider the sermon with “a view from where we currently stood” and asked three leading questions:

  1. Where did I come from?
  2. What is wrong with the world?
  3. Is there a solution?

The sermon then progressed into an extensive look at each question and how one might answer. The conversation first focused on God as the Creator of the world. I have always believed in Creation and the power of God’s Word. When I was younger, I did not question my faith or openly debate the possibilities of differences in beliefs. Now however, after attending a public college where so many of my beliefs were challenged, I am amazed at how many new opinions and theories come into the world on a daily basis. Some opinions seem plausible while others are complete nonsense, but it calls to reason that Creation can be a difficult belief for some to grasp.

Personally, there has never been any doubt in my mind that in the beginning God spoke, “Let it be.” and it was. It was not until I became older that this belief really shook me though. I mean, seriously, how incredibly powerful can a being be to make something out of nothing by simply speaking three words?

When I contemplate this unbelievable concept, though, it is not what creates the deepest feelings of amazement in me. Instead, I am completely blown away by how intelligent, engaged, and omniscient God is. Think of the exact perfection and complexity in which the world revolves; everything is collaborated to the concise and accurate measure that it should be.

In example, look at space. If the earth were a fraction of a degree closer/farther away to the sun than it is now, life on the planet would be no more. If the moon were a fraction closer/farther away from the earth, the tides and water levels would be extremely different making the planet uninhabitable. If the earth tilted more or less than it naturally does, then the seasons, ice caps, temperatures, etc. across the entire planet would radically change. However, in the great scheme God designed, the universe is perfectly situated by 1/1000th of a degree for life to continue as it always has.

With this realization of the immense thought and care put into my every day life, it is disheartening to think of the world around me. Mundane topics come and go by the second and each brings about a multitude of hate. I mean, just look at the outcry over a red cup. There is war on Christianity for taking a “good, lovely holiday tradition” and wreaking havoc. I’m sorry, but as a Christian, I could care less about a damn cup. And in no way should such a ridiculous argument portray my religion or beliefs. Yet, it has and it continues to do so daily.

Our culture is hostile to the Christian faith. We no longer live in a time or place where what Christians believe constitutes the norm. It’s not even an accepted point of view anymore! Instead, being a Christian seems to be an open war on the cherished principles of religious tolerance and relativism. If you point out anyone’s faults or question anyone’s life choices, your faith is thrown in your face.

What is wrong with the world? The answer is too long to list. Look at your Facebook feed and you’ll see the tip of the iceberg: racism, abortion, affairs, lying, world hunger, cancer, poverty, etc. Every single thing wrong in the world is broadcast for all to see. Struggle is inevitable.

I have several friends, non-Christians, whom I love and respect. And it comes time when we have tough conversations on why the things that are going wrong in the world happen. It is at these times that I feel my faith the most. These friends sometimes challenge my faith and attempt to ruffle my feathers by saying my belief in God blinds me to the real, tangible facts the world is shoving in our faces. They question how, if there is a God, He could allow such things to happen. Or they question how I can continue to believe in a God when it seems He is no longer present in the world.

It is during those times that I feel the strength of God and can literally see my faith in action. These are the times I can plant my feet, square my shoulders, lift my head, and not only give an account of my belief but also why I believe such things.

It goes to show that Del Tackett, former president of the Focus on the Family Institute, was spot on in this quote:

However, by diligently learning, applying, and trusting God’s truths in every area of our lives we can begin to develop a deep comprehensive faith that will stand against the unrelenting tide of our culture’s nonbiblical ideas.

It is important to remember that if we, as Christians, do not really believe or even understand the truth of God and live it, then our witnessing to others will be confusing and misleading. Most of us go through life not recognizing that our personal worldviews have been deeply affected by the world. Our lives can “depend heavily on human tradition and the basic principles of the world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

There may not be a simple answer as to how to fix the problems of the world. In all honesty, we live in a Post-Christian world where sin reigns. Fortunately, for Christians, there is a way we can live in such a culture. It takes us getting our hands dirty and immersing ourselves in other people’s lives, but it’s worth it. Not only can we continue to live our faith-driven lives, but we can also witness the Truth to those our lives’ touch. How incredibly rewarding is that!?

In the end, the Christian faith begins with what we think about “in the beginning.” It matters that when we look at our world we acknowledge that there is a God. The Creator is more than a blind, impersonal force; He is a loving and engaged Father who wants the very best for every single one of his creations. This is my view on Life, my faith, and the world around me.

With this in mind, I have a bright light to lead me through Life and get me through every single problem I face. I pray that, whatever your belief, you also feel the same way and can walk into the world with your head held high knowing you have a purpose for being alive.

Beating of the Drum

Hebrews 12:1 “Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

I experienced something new and exciting today — my first community Bible study. As a girl who attended a Lutheran day school from preschool to senior year in high school, this might not seem like something that should be so exciting. For me, though, this is a new opportunity to become closer to my God, and help me rediscover (or perhaps even discover for the first time) aspects of my life which I have been missing.

The study I enrolled in captured my interest right away. It is called Restless and will be discussing the story of Joseph and the mystery of one’s role in this world. I have been questioning my position in life for some time now, so it’s no wonder I was drawn to such a topic. And after my first group study today, I believe I will be pleasantly surprised at the outcome of these next eight weeks.

Looking at Hebrews 12:1 made me wonder if I have been running the race God has marked out for me. I began to question many things: who am I? What does God want me to become? Why does God have a plan for me?

As I question these things I feel a sense of discontentment and guilt. Discontentment because I am unsure the answers to these questions. Guilt because I am unsure whether I should be asking my Holy Savior such things. I mean, He has and has always had a plan for me, right? He knows how my life will progress and who I will one day become. Should I then worry about my future? I feel so restless and impatient. It’s like there’s a beating of a drum somewhere in the distance and I’m not sure if I should stop to listen, begin searching for it, or start dancing. There are too many choices!

In my study, an interesting story was told that stuck with me: a woman is running an uncompetitive race where there are multiple routes, numerous distractions, no time limits, and one finish line. As the woman decides to go on a dusty trail, she sees some people on the sideline taking a break. Feeling tired herself, she decides to join them and rest for a bit. When she meets the others on the side, she quickly becomes friends. The others are funny and entertaining and witty. They share numerous laughs, mostly at the expense of continuing racers who run by them. However, after some time the woman begins to notice that those on the sideline have no expectation to continue their racing any time soon. As she feels her muscles tightening back up and the adrenalin of the race’s start fading, she becomes restless. She realizes she needs to get back in the game. Raising to her feet and ignoring the questioning looks of her new friends she pads back onto the track. Slipping into a slight jog, she rediscovers her steps and eases back into a comfortable pace, never looking back.

The meaning of this story is so impacting! I think all of us go through stages where we experience people or situations who don’t really want the best for us. Maybe its a fun friend who is a horrible influence, or perhaps a job that isn’t moving you forward. Whatever the case, becoming stuck on the sidelines is not something God wants for us. Instead, he wants us to keep running the race He’s planned out for us. You might fall a few times, you might even have a serious injury that detriments your skills, but guess what? He will always be there as a crutch so you can continue stumbling along your path. Ultimately, your perseverence will allow you to bring Him the glory He justly deserves — and what He desires.

The challenge I’ve set for myself during the next eight weeks of this Bible Study is to become more aware of the areas I stumble or slow down in my own race. I want to figure out what causes these falterings in my running. In the end, my anticipation is that I will come to a finish line that allows me to be honestly and full-heartedly thankful for everything in my life (both good and bad) because I’ll understand and know that God is there to always lead me towards a better future.