Friday, December 20, 2013

Selling my Soul (What I've learned about love part 2)

Today, I'm going to talk about that thing everybody talks about.  If you've been to enough youth conferences or retreats you might know what I'm talking about.  And you might be sick of it.  I've been there, too.  We all get the point, whether we agree or disagree with the "save sex for marriage!" campaign.  The truth is, we all get to make our own decision, and that is as it should be.  You should do what you want.  Yes, that's right, I really did just say that.  But I hope that you reach conclusions about what you want, especially when it comes to something as important as love, in freedom.  Above all, you need to be free.  If that wasn't important, God would have made you a robot.

Maybe that's why we get tired of those retreat speakers.  Maybe they seem to steal the beauty of our freedom by telling us what to do.  But I came to a realization, and I have a question: Do we get equally tired of messages and images about sex from other areas?
Do we see those as intrusions upon our freedom, too?  Do they irritate us when they emphasize the same things over and over again? Don't we get what the media tells us just as well as we get what the church people tell us?

Sex really has become the thing everybody talks about, but it's subtle.  Wait, it's plastered everywhere,  but it's subtle? Yes.  The ads, music, news stories, movies, and maybe even the people around you are selling it constantly, and it works... because it's everywhere.  We're usually unaware of it just due to its overwhelming presence. So the message seeps in unnoticed.  It doesn't annoy us because it's not up front or demanding like a live speaker.

The first subtle message I've noticed in these sex campaigns is that they try to tell you what you want.  They have created an ideal: a shining, glamorous thing to aspire to.  Sex isn't just you expressing love the way you want, it's slender models and nights on the town and that perfect little black dress.  Or, it's having the body of a football player, the car of a millionaire, and that brand name cologne off of a T.V. commercial.

Is buying their ideal freedom?

 There's nothing wrong with being skinny as long as you're healthy.  There's nothing wrong with having a nice car.  But what if you're a jeans and a t-shirt type of girl?  What if you're not a size 2? What if you drive your dad's pickup truck? (ok, maybe that's hot to country fans, but still.)  The ideal that is set up for you will leave you feeling just a little less than what you "should" be.  And just because you are your own person.  Should real love make you feel insufficient, or take delight in the truth of who you are?  As my dear friend said, "True love is not blind. True love sees what is, as is, and chooses for the sake of love."  If you look at any happily married couple you know, I doubt their love life resembles an advertisement.  It looks more like real life, with real people, and that's real love!

That's where the next subtle message comes in.
Sex doesn't have to mean love.  Sure, love is fine but while you're waiting, have a one night stand, try being friends with benefits, look at long as everyone involved consents, there are no rules. You're free!  Aren't you?
I think you're afraid.  I find it sad that religious people are seen as afraid of sex.  No! I'm certainly not, and I'm talking about it openly.

Sex is beautiful...and it's uniting, and it's procreative. Wait, what? That's not part of the ideal! Well, hear me out.  God designed us to love each other, so he gave us this beautiful gift that bonds a man and a woman in a love that reflects his- a love that gives itself completely to another person, a love that lasts forever, a love that gives life to the world! It's amazing, but it's a big commitment.  No wonder we're afraid of that.  It's so much easier to focus on sex as pleasure, without the the risks of giving your whole self and loving new children of God into existence. Our world is afraid of the fullness of sex so they deny some of its most precious natural qualities.  They're afraid of the fullness of each unique person, so they try to reduce you to a copy of their magazine standard.  Search your heart a little deeper.  I believe all of you are driven by a longing for love, NOT by fear.  Let yourself want it all. That's truly daring love! And the ones who are willing to love each other like that are the ones who are brave and exciting, in my opinion.

But how are you going to become that kind of person? Maybe you're immersed in the ideal now.  Maybe you believed in real love once, until someone else- or you yourself- made you lose hope, or offered you the subtle counterfeit.  Or maybe you're still holding out, but the temptations are chipping away at your courage.

I have two suggestions.
The first one is really important.  I want you to tell yourself that the love you want is out there, and that by God's grace you will be worthy of it.  Don't be afraid of yourself, or mistakes you've made in the past.  And don't be afraid of the work it takes to make yourself ready for a deeper love than what you know now.  I had a text conversation with a friend from college about relationships, and he quite chivalrously noted that the person you're with "shouldn't expect sex."  When I explained as well as could through that channel of communication why I'm waiting until I'm married, he respectfully explained his differing point of view, as I had expected.  But the most interesting part of his reply? The very end: "And just because you're not a virgin doesn't make you a bad person."
He was just waiting for me to judge him.

But who am I to cast a stone?  Don't we all get confused? Don't we all need grace? Purity and virginity are two completely different things.  Purity is a state of your heart and soul where God gives you the grace to see and value love for what it really is.  Someone who is still a virgin can be impure, and someone who's married can and should be pure.  I challenge all of you to purity, because not one of you is a "bad person" and all of you can be worthy of love. All of you have something beautiful ahead of you to aspire to.  Remember that.

My next suggestion is important, too.  It's about teaching yourself and others what you're worth, and who you are.  The way you treat yourself and others, the way you talk, the way you dress, even, is a means of communication that speaks volumes. One of the inspirations for this post was finding this...

...and I think it makes a good point.  What am I advertising?  I know the world might be trying to turn me into a model to help sell their ideal, but that's not what I want to sell.  I want to sell my soul.
By that, I mean that I want the way I act and look on the outside to show who I am on the inside.  (And now I'm getting that song from Mulan stuck in my head...) So first of all, I want to find ways to reflect my personality and what's important to me in the things I do and the clothes I wear.  But then...I want to create a sense of wonder.

There are some things about me that you can't figure out just by looking.  There's a bit of depth and mystery to every person that I find awe-inspiring.  So I like to guide people to look a little deeper.
For the girls: that's what I mean by modesty.  Dress in a way that is flattering, that reflects your personal style and what you like...but that also draws people towards getting to know you better, towards loving you for the beauty of your soul.  Your body doesn't need to be the main attraction.  You are a whole person.  You are not required to match the ideal.  You aren't required to match anything.  God already made you matchless.  Attract the kind of people who want to figure that out, and look to see and appreciate who those around you truly are as well.

Have the courage to love to the fullest.  I dare you.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Why Love Stinks (or what I've learned about love part 1)

 EXHIBIT A- this basically sums up my feelings about Shakespeare's romantic classic:

Seriously.  It's pathetic.  So...why is it idolized worldwide? Why does it get references in catchy songs like Love Story or Check Yes Juliet?  Why that super popular adorable chick flick Letters to Juliet?  Or the thing with the garden gnomes?  Why does every high school English teacher ever think it is a necessary piece of literature for every child in America to read?  As ridiculous as this story is, there must be something to it, to make it last this long as a freaking literary staple! I think something hidden in this story appeals to us. Something resonates, and it's not the corny but quotable lines like "Wherefore art thou, Romeo?"
I think it's the fact that Romeo and Juliet die.  Or rather, I think it's the fact that they choose to die- that life seems worthless without the other person.  It's ridiculous in their case because they hardly know each other, and suicide is not something I promote, but I think we like the thought of a love that our life can revolve around. That's the kind of love we idolize in a world that tells us that we should like people for how attractive they are. I think we're sick of trying to make ourselves more beautiful.  I think what we really want is to make people's lives more beautiful with what we do.  I think we want to create relationships that would hurt like death if they ended because they're so strong, because we contribute so much to each others' lives.

EXHIBIT B- I need this shirt:

Now that would be a beautiful collision.  And I have no guilt in saying that because she's fictional.  (; Why are people obsessed with this one? Because the characters are obsessed with each other- Bella and Edward are willing to give up anything to be together.  It's a twisted story but there's a hint of truth in it: Love takes sacrifice.  All too often people get into relationships just because they're lonely, or because the other person makes them feel good.  We need people who understand that love is not about emotional gratification.  That is selfishness.  Real love is about giving of yourself, about staying committed no matter what.  Infatuation, or "falling in love" can be beautiful and is often very easy, but taking those feelings and building a love that means something? That takes work, and a lot of it.
So love is about sharing so much good with each other that life without the other person is painful.  And love takes work and sacrifice.  That's already a lot of potential for love to be reeaally difficult.  (It's so difficult that finding someone who's willing to do it and who is also fun, charming, attractive, etc., seems almost impossible...which is why I'm still single ;b) But it gets worse...or better, depending on how you look at it.
About a year ago I had a friend who helped me discover just how difficult love is. Our friendship really became a love-hate relationship for me, and most of the time it veered dangerously toward hate.  I kept wondering how I was supposed to love this person, because I couldn't do it the way I was used to.  And eventually I realized a major problem with my mindset.  I realized I was equating love with affirmation.
When I think of love, I think of kind words and hugs...and approval.  Yet I was far from approving of my friend, who was behaving in a very hurtful way.  I wrote in my journal "I don't understand how love can be perfect when people are so imperfect."  Love, in music and movies and books, is this beautiful thing worth dying for and worth sacrificing for.  But what do you do when the love itself is what's killing you?  What about when love isn't beautiful, at least not according to our usual standards of beauty? What do you do when the world tells you "don't judge," because they want you to stay away from the scars and the insecurity?
Love can be beautiful, and it can be affirming.  But sometimes love stinks.  Sometimes love goes against every impulse and ideal you have.  That's when you have to decide if it's worth it.  That's when you find out that the things that really matter are the things that have the most power to hurt you.
Love is when you argue with someone all day-because neither of you can stand to leave the conflict between you, no matter how hard it is to solve.  Love is when you forgive every hurtful comment and ask those too-cool-for school "friends" how their week is, and listen.  Love is the scene in the Passion of the Christ when Mary hesitates to go to Jesus because she's not sure she can take the pain of watching him suffer...but then, seeing him fall from a distance she rushes to where he lies, crushed and bleeding, just to look into his eyes and let him know I still love you.
I still love you.  I may be suffocating in how much you hurt me, but I still love you. You guys, eventually love has to be uncomfortable.  You can't always jump to the next happy thing; sometimes you have to wait in the in-between that is so confusing or terrifying or painful.  Sometimes just holding on takes all the effort you've got.  And the scariest part is, you have to choose it.  By choosing to love you choose to deprive yourself of your comfort zone.   You have the terrible power to leave or give up at any time, or to stay when that infatuation I talked about earlier is dead and you wonder how it ever existed. 
I'm not talking about tolerating abuse.  I want everyone who reads this to believe that they are worthy, have dignity, and should be treated with respect.  Sometimes the best way to love someone is to leave them, because by hurting you they ultimately hurt themselves.  What I'm talking about is the fierce patience and hope it takes to love a very broken person with your own broken heart so both of you can learn that love is stronger than your scars.  If you can do that...
You are learning perfection.  You are on your way to paradise.
We all find it hard to accept the mystery of God, or His presence in our lives and our souls.  We usually don't "feel" anything when we think about Him.  But love- His love- is not a feeling.  It's something we passionately pursue.  And when we imitate the kind of love that made Him die for His indifferent, empty, broken children, we are discovering the image of God that He placed in our souls.  What was there in us to love as we pushed Him away, or hid from Him in fear? But He is the King of I still love you.  That's why, even when we feel far from him and can't understand how his sacrifice applies to us, He gives us the ability to learn His love and use it to find healing in a broken world.  And maybe, just maybe, the restored will be more beautiful than what was never broken.

EXHIBIT C- Take the risk. Be vulnerable.  I dare you.

The Forgiveness Myth

I do not enjoy forgiving people because it makes me feel like a doormat. I would honestly rather get all Carrie Underwood/Miranda Lambert up...