There’s A Risk

I remember my first death very well — it was my fifteen-year-old dog, Stretch. While some may mock such a loss, “Stretchie,” was my running partner, confidant, and very best friend (or one of them). To my twelve-year-old mind, her death was very significant and difficult. I cried a lot and thought of her often and of how much I missed her. It was in this time that I first realized the extreme risk of love. Would it have been easier if I never loved at all?

Of course, common sense and wisdom soon prevailed over this depressing thought. Looking at my wonderful life thus far with Stretchie was very much worth it to me, even though I would have to face the rest of it without her. Because I had the memories of her licking my face, of plucking her fur (yes, plucking…well, that’s what I called it when I pulled her fur that was shedding), and running with her in the backyard. And really, I wouldn’t trade those memories to have had her forever but to never have loved her or to have never had her at all. The risk was worth it.

Now, almost five years later, I’ve gone through far greater risks and experienced many other grievances. Friends have betrayed me. I left my heart behind in another country. A person that I expressed my feelings to disappointed me. Someone very dear to my heart went to heaven. I’ve sometimes wondered if my old idea was right. Was the risk worth it?

And then, I went to acting school. For my own sake, I went with the mindset that I wouldn’t delve too deeply into relationships with others. I would make friends but not too closely, since I was only there for three weeks and a great distance of land would surely prevent us from visiting often. I’d been hurt by the risk of love too many times and would be again, so I would avoid it here.

But that was before I realized that the minute I stepped into the room full of other students who loved to act, I was taking a risk. It was before I knew that these three weeks would be a time of growing through friendship. I didn’t understand that life and love are about taking risks. I had forgotten the greatest loving risk of all that paid the price for my sins. I couldn’t see the great beauty of the risk.

Thankfully, in those three weeks I saw all of these things and came out with a new love for the risk called love. I saw my heart change and grow and my longings fulfilled. I had conversations that I’d always wanted to have. I learned how to be a good friend and the beauty of a true friend. My needs were met and my insecurities broken at last. And yes, there was disappointment — my three weeks weren’t perfect by any means. It is true that I had to leave these friends and I probably won’t see many of them again. But there are certain rewards of taking the risk to love which made it all worth it.

My heart may be tender but I don’t care if it is stepped on anymore. I know what love tastes like now and it is well worth the risk. Protecting yourself against friendship and love only wounds the heart that God created. As friends, we may pass each other by, we may be hurt and disappointed, and the pain might be great but the love that we share makes these risks pale in comparison.

He Passes The Ball

A soccer/football ball.

Image via Wikipedia

I have always failed sports. I’ve never been able to kick or throw or catch anything properly. Choose me for your soccer team? You’ll lose for sure. Pass me the ball? What are you thinking!? But one day, someone chose me for his team.

“Come play soccer with us,” my friend, who was also a talented soccer player, persuaded.

Normally, I would have said no right away, but something in his kindly eyes or the way he asked me changed my mind. Perhaps the fact that I was at acting school far from home helped, too. I really don’t know what made me say yes, but I did.

I practically just stood there in the field, like I always did, letting the star players kick the ball and run about. This wasn’t my game. I would just lose. I watched my friend, undoubtably the most talented of the group, running and kicking with skill. He would surely get this next goal. Yes, I knew that he would! But he chose not to score a goal himself. No, instead my friend passed the ball to me.

Overwhelmed with shock and self-doubt, I kicked the ball quickly and unskillfully. Although I did my best to aim it towards the goal, a member of the opposing team soon got a hold of it and my friend’s gift was lost. Oh why did he pass it to me? I wondered, feeling ashamed and sorry. He must be sorry that he did that. He’ll never pass it to me again now! Amidst this sorrow, I recalled the gift that my friend had indeed still given to me, although I had misused it. From then on, I decided to play the game like I meant it. I would fight hard to thank him for his gift.

I ran and ran, harder than ever before. I chased that ball and longed for it to come to me. I wished that I could score a goal for the sake of my friend who had sacrificed for me. I watched him run, and marveled at his skill. He could out-run anyone, dribble for longer, and defend that ball like it meant the world to him. If only I could be like him! But I didn’t need to be any better for him, as he passed the ball back to me without a second thought.

There was no remembrance, no grudge, or even worry, it would seem. Even though he was the best player and I the worst, my friend still passed that ball to me. He passed it more than once but several times. And most of those times I failed miserably. Sometimes I passed it successfully to another team member, or almost made a goal, but I never scored. But he always forgave, trusted, loved, and gave me a second chance.

Why my friend passed me the ball time and time again, I’ll never know. He could have scored half a dozen times but instead, he lovingly gave me a chance. I’ll never know why he made that choice, but I’m sure glad that he did.

Just like that friend saved and forgave me time and time again that night, I have been saved and forgiven from all of my wrongdoings, by the One who created me. My countless wrongs have been washed away, and my slate is clean. Even though I’ve failed miserably, I have been given another chance at life because He always passes the ball again, no matter how badly I miss the goal the first time.

Have you taken the ball yet? I know that God has passed it to you, and He is waiting for you to give it your best shot. It doesn’t matter how many times you have failed – God will always be your friend, passing you the ball.

Not A Judge

It happens the minute I enter the room. I look at their clothes, the way that they walk, and how they talk and suddenly, from my short analysis, I know everything. Or everything, at least, that I need to know. It’s the judgement.

From these observations, I either like or dislike, befriend or snub, talk to or ignore this person. I can tell what kind of individual they are, and I treat them as such. There is no consideration for anything other than the surface, no thought for the whys or hows of their dress or conduct, just the judgement.

It pains me to say it, but I am so guilty of this cruel action. I’ve done it not once but countless times to a thousand people. I see what they wear, hear their few words, and watch their personality and suddenly, I know them. I forget their hearts, their minds, feelings, and pasts and instead I focus on judging them.

And then there is the day when I realize that I have been oh, so wrong. Yes, very wrong. The clothes that they wear aren’t because of what I thought at all. The words that they said that day don’t define their personality as I assumed. Their conduct has to do with something deeper than I ever dreamed. I have merely dismissed the heart and judged the surface. In judging, I’ve missed the most important part of the person.

It’s far past my time to stop this judgement. I should have changed long ago. All I can say now is this: “I’m not a judge but I’ve acted like one. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?”

Nothing Short Of Beautiful

“Oh, just so you know,” he got up out of the bench and looked into my eyes from where I was, across the room. “You are beautiful.”

A great joy filled me. “Thank you!” I replied, skipping out of the room. It wasn’t until I got to the hall that I realized that he had indeed called me beautiful. Yes, beautiful, those words that my heart had hungered to hear in description of me for so long. The words that my ears had likely heard time and time again throughout my life, but that my heart had never believed. But now, I knew that it was true…I was beautiful!

As I got ready for bed that night, I couldn’t stop thinking about my friend’s words. There was no romantic attraction on either side, and I had recently come to know his words myself but still they meant the world to me. I guess it was the confirmation that I was indeed what I had been trying to accept for so long. It was the truth of God, being spoken by a human being. Regardless, as I looked into the mirror that night, I truly felt beautiful.

I thought of the powder that I still wore a bit of, and the tubes of make-up I’d brought to acting school “just in case.” “No,” I said aloud. “I don’t need them anymore. I will never wear make-up again.”

And then I realized that nobody else needed make-up either. I looked at my friends, the other girls at the acting school, and saw their true, natural attractiveness. I watched sadly as some of them loaded up on make-up, consciously or unconsciously, and covered what God made to be beautiful. I saw them worry about mascara running and foundation smearing. I tried to reassure them, to help them understand that they were pretty, and attractive. Because we are nothing short of beautiful.

Yes, blue or brown or green or grey eyes. Thick or curly or straight hair. Tall or short, fine-boned or plump. Little feet or long legs, a small chest or rosy cheeks. It is all beautiful. The acne, weight, height or other “imperfections” that you have don’t change a thing. There is no make-up needed. You are nothing short of beautiful.

But why, why can’t we all see and believe it? Why do girls keep hiding behind eye-shadow and foundation and believing these lies? Why does the world say that we have to be this or that to be beautiful? Why can’t we all stop and realize that God made us and we are nothing short of beautiful?

I encourage you to realize the truth today…that you are beautiful. Please, never believe anything different! Encourage others around you and never feel the need to measure up to anyone else. God made you to be nothing short of beautiful and He is pleased with you.

 

Because Love Is More

“When I was in Columbia…”

“On my trip to Cambodia…”

“In the Ukraine…”

I stared at all three of them in awe. It was my third night at the acting school and I had found, for the first time in the whole year that I had been back from Mexico, three people who felt exactly how I did about missions trips. Three people who had learned to love and be loved, give and receive, and had been humbled and changed on a trip just like mine. It was the answer to my prayers! My heart jumped and I listened intently to the people who also knew that love is more important than anything else.

Between each of us, we’d gone to four very different places. However, we could all identify with the same thoughts and feelings. We all knew that people are people wherever you go, and that the border you cross or the language you speak doesn’t change who you are in Christ. We understood that love is more relevent when you put differences aside and realize that you are quite similar to someone else.

There were stories of little children, beautiful children, who had taught us so much. Some of us shared stories of the power of the words, “I love you,” spoken by kids that we barely knew. We discussed cute, little children who clung to our knees and wouldn’t let us go because they loved us, too. Our hearts wept for the ones left behind, and inside each excited pair of eyes there was a tear for the loss that we had without them. We knew that love is more radiant and beautiful than anything else.

We each knew the interchangeable language that does not need to be translated and can never be misunderstood for we had spoken it on our trips. We spoke of times when there were no words needed because the other person knew. And, of course, there were the wonderful days when words were understood, because love just isn’t a foreign language. It was evident to us that the language of love is more understandable, true, and lovely than any other dialect in the world.

Most of all, we knew about the wealth of each country. We talked of the golden smiles and rich laughter, marvelous moments and wealthy words in Mexico, Cambodia, Columbia, and the Ukraine. We knew that money is not the most important thing, and that the true wealth of a person or country is not measured in coins or bills. The size of your house, the car that you have, or the clothes that you wear don’t define that either. Yes, we knew that love is more valuable and wealthy than any pot of gold.

Thank you God, for these friends and that the love that you sent us is indeed more than anything else in this world.

Even In The Rain

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise Him all creatures here below…”

We stood there, crammed inside of a tiny basement, all two hundred and something of us, in our robes and head coverings, armour and dowries.  It was raining hard outside but there was a show to perform. It was a play that was very important to God, a story that must be told, and we were going to do it, even in the rain.

And eventually it stopped, and we got out there in our robes from long ago, barely hiding 2011 running shoes and rubber boots. We acted and sang and told a story, ran down hills and almost slipped and felt cold and wet and miserable. It was difficult but we did it because we had a message to bring, even in the rain.

Eventually, we stopped the performance. It was just too dangerous. And so, we took our armour off, headed to busses, and made our way home. But our blessings and God were not forgotten, even in the rain.

Satan did not win that day. No, even in the rain that He sent to hinder us, passion burned within our souls and fought to glorify God. And it did. We performed the Love of a time gone by that is ever relevent today. We did not give up sharing God’s gift, even in the rain.

That day happened just over a month ago but it’s remembrance still brings happy tears to my eyes and a smile to my face. It reminds me that each day that I am given must be lived for the full and beautiful glory of God, no matter what stands in my way.  Jesus deserves my praise. After all, He sacrificed everything for me so why should I not share that with others?

Yes, God, even in the rain will I praise your name!

The Most Excellent Way

The room was dark, but over fifty candles lighted it with a great brilliance. Then, we all started to sing, and the excellent beauty of it caught me by surprise. I wanted to cry and laugh and sing and jump. Instead, I just stood there, mesmerized by the feeling I was given, when the boy I’d called my “secret friend” for the last three weeks of acting school walked up to me.

“Thank you,” He said, with a strong smile on his face. We embraced, and I would have cried if I could have.

“You’re welcome,” I murmured.

“You were a great secret friend,” He spoke sincerely and looked straight into my eyes. “You don’t know how encouraging those everyday verses were.”

Now I smiled. “I’m glad,” I said. “I really enjoyed being your secret friend. You are a wonderful person.”

Every word that I said was true. Right from the start of our “secret friendship,” this boy had been a great object on my mind. I don’t know what it was about the concept but it excited me so much that I started planning for it the first night, even before we’d drawn names. The next day, I remember staring at his name, then just a title to me, and wondering how I could encourage this stranger. But apparently, I did…

Through Smarties and verses, a notebook he needed and a poem I wrote, I wooed him. I sat beside him at lunch and tried to transfer every fibre of his being to my mind. In acting and dance and leadership, I encouraged him. I walked through Wal-Mart, staring at books and cookies and garden rakes, wondering what he would like. I listened intently when he talked. Every morning or evening, I stealthily handed his gifts to other people. I stayed up late reading my bible for the perfect verse, and prayed for him every morning. I smiled when he wore my necklace and carried my jaguar stuffy. I sacrificed, gave, and loved and the feeling it gave me was so beautifully excellent.

I went to bed with him on my heart. It was strange, but I missed being his secret friend. I wanted him back to encourage and buy gifts for. What has happened to me? I asked God in desperation.

“My child,” He said. “You have learned the most excellent way…to love.”

And indeed I had.

Never Alone

Mighty to Save played softly in the background and hushed voices spoke all around me. I sat there in my pretty red dress, meditating on the sermon and unwilling to leave at present. There was something more for me here today. I didn’t know what but there was.

The sermon had been on sin and leaving it behind and becoming holy. It was very good and had reminded me of things in my own life. I tried to think on it, assuming that was what kept me here in the library after church at acting school today. However, God had other plans.

“Elizabeth,” a Voice came, clear and true as ever. “You don’t have to be alone.”

The Voice took me by surprise. It was not because it was there, but rather, what it had said. I wasn’t thinking about friendship or loneliness at that moment. I was trying to meditate on the sermon and my own sin. However, it definitely wasn’t far off from where my thoughts had been lately. It was the end of my second week at the school, and while I had felt enormous companionship with my new friends and realized the great love that I possessed for my dear friends back home, I had also found myself to be lonely at times. In fact, in the last little while I had realized that much of my life had been spent in loneliness. I had never had that one person that was all to my self and I wanted that. Yes, I had God but still the desire for someone else remained. Someone specifically mine who would never, never leave me.

At the moment that I heard the voice, all of these thoughts and insecurities were pushed aside. Instead, a deep happiness filled me and I began to cry. Random thoughts from the last two weeks and this past year of healing filled my mind. The conversation about missions and the friend that made me truly feel what I had been trying to believe. The opening up about my struggles the very first week. The people who asked me what my name was and got to know me. The only girl at the summer school who called me Liz. Feeling down on our day off and being rescued by a dear friend….

And then, the prophecy truly unfolded. One of the counselors came and sat beside me, touching me on the shoulder as she did so.

“Hey,” she smiled and I grinned back. My heart jumped for joy. I wanted to find the words to tell her that I had been crying because I was happy and that she was fulfilling God’s promise but I couldn’t find my voice.

We sat there for a long, long time. Sometimes I would try to sing, but I mostly just sat back in my chair, with my hands folded in my lap, looking to my right to see if the counselor was still there…and every time I looked, she was! I kept expecting her to leave but she didn’t. I wondered if I should say something to make her stay but I couldn’t find the words. I started to cry again and she held me close to her. I stopped and we sat still again. People started filing out of the library and I still expected her to do so…but she didn’t. I knew that I was not alone.

“Thank you for sitting with me,” I said, turning to her, a smile on my lips.

And then she told me that when she had first come over, God had told her to tell me that He never makes mistakes, and that I was loved.

I smiled and told her what God had promised me right before she came.

She didn’t leave then either. We walked out together and had lunch across from each other. When we met in the halls after that, we always smiled and said hello. And over the next week, I began to notice that I really, truly did have other friends who genuinely cared about me as much as I did about them. God was right, I didn’t have to be alone.