His Child

Great Love

Some days I find my own company pretty nearly unbearable. It’s exhausting, it really is, to think about myself all the time. How I look, what I’m saying, what impression I’m giving people. Always picking to pieces every little thing that concerns me, searching for some scrap that I can tack on to hold my sense of self-importance together. Letting myself be pushed to extremes whenever something goes right or wrong. I can boomerang from scathing pride to whimpering insecurity in a matter of hours.

Last Sunday found me sitting quietly in a pew, feeling like it was a miracle that anyone ever wanted to be around me. Because I certainly didn’t.

Sometimes when I think about the fact that God loves me, it feels absurd. How could God know me as well as I know myself and still love me? Surely if He knew the self-absorbed contents of my heart, He would put a little distance between us.

But the absurd, incredible thing about God is that there’s nothing we can do or say or think that will make Him step back. He never tires of our company, never grows frustrated with our neediness. He doesn’t re-evaluate His love for us with the changes of the seasons. His love is steadfast and relentless.

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1)

I am humbled and in awe when I think that the God who perfected the laws of physics that hold us onto this Earth would have anything to do with a selfish speck of dust like me. More incredibly, He doesn’t stop at merely acknowledging my existence. He claims me as His own. Brought into the world on purpose. An heir to all the riches of His love and justice and mercy.

To be someone’s child is to be irrevocably a part of who they are. To have a God who claims me as His child is to be unconditionally accepted, eternally listened to, irreplaceably valued.

If I can wrap my mind around that kind of Love, I won’t need to waste my time sifting through what other people say about me or the image I see in the mirror for some small self-esteem boost. Because everything I am searching for- from you, from the stats on my twitter posts, from the grades on my transcript- is already found in the all-encompassing Love of God. 

The Fight for Gentleness


Some weeks are just rough. Last week was one of those weeks. At work, it felt like I was put in one situation after another in which I wouldn’t and couldn’t succeed. In my graduate work, it was one overly complicated task after another. The kids I work with were extremely close to seeing me lose my temper.

I was tired. Emotionally, physically, spiritually exhausted.

And for a moment I wondered what would happen if I just stopped caring. Stopped trying so hard to accomplish things that everyone says are impossible. Stopped being such an overachiever. What if I just stopped thinking so much?

But I couldn’t stop caring. Couldn’t stop thinking or worrying or pushing. Because I have seen what it looks like when people stop caring and it looks harsh and apathetic and sad.

The world is a broken place, filled with jagged edges and rough terrain. The sensible thing in a world where we are constantly scraped and bruised is to build up calluses, to let ourselves grow hard, to thicken our skin. It’s the sensible thing to drop all sense of hopeful expectation because we assume that we will be let down. To stop trying to change things that we just know will never change.

But gentleness, like all the virtues, goes directly against all common sense. It looks weak and passive and all the things we are not supposed to be if we want to make it in the world.

But gentleness is much more than passive acceptance. It’s more than refraining from inflicting harm. Gentleness is having the courage to be vulnerable. People who are soft are hurt easily and often. To be gentle is to accept the possibility of heartbreak and failure.

Remaining gentle in this rough and tumble world is perhaps life’s greatest feat of endurance.  Gentle people are not soft because they are naive, they are soft because, with quiet determination, they tear off anything that threatens to make them hard. They get angry, they are disappointed, they cry with exhaustion and frustration, but then they wake up in the morning and shed the suffocating scales of envy, bitterness, resentment, fear, and selfish pride. And they face the new day with vigor and hope.

Because gentleness is what allows us to feel- not just what happens in our own heads, but what is happening to the people around us. It keeps us open and free. Gentleness lets us breathe and it breathes life.

So I’ll keep choosing to care and feel and get hurt.

I’ll keep choosing gentleness.

Love Drives Out


I am not by nature a good person. At my core there is a strand of cynicism and anger that I work hard to keep in check.

I am not by nature of loving person. I am guarded and judgmental and elitist.

I know the world is not what it should be. People are not who they should be. I am definitely not who I should be.

And I can get so cynical. So negative. And when it builds up to a breaking point, I say things and react to things in ways that I instantly regret. And I hate it. I hate hearing myself rant. Hate my sarcasm and self-congratulatory speeches and passive aggression.

And most of all, I hate that I let it slip that I am an angry, critical person.

But self-hate doesn’t drive out a hateful spirit. It only redirects it, intensifies it, and holds it in- a spring-loaded trap of judgment and spite.

But Love. Love doesn’t push our hatred into a dark corner, doesn’t mask our cynicism. Love lights up the dark corners and tears off the masks. Love looks beyond the knee-jerk reaction of anger to see the hurt underneath.  Hatred simplifies, love humanizes.

There is darkness in the world, but into this darkness there has dawned a great light. When Love entered this world in the person of Jesus, He did not come to teach people how to keep their darkness better hidden, He came with a light that reached into even the darkest recesses of their souls. To a people grown accustomed to darkness, His unflinching, unwavering love burst on them as a terrifyingly brilliant glimpse of all the radiance of God’s love.

It’s easy to hate ignorance, and hatred, and violence. It’s easy to sit in a dark room and complain that someone needs to turn on the light. But let’s not be people who are content to point out how dark it is in the world. Let’s be people who take every opportunity to let more light in.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

(Romans 12:21)

To Love a Human

real love

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

 Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Lately I’ve been increasingly convinced that all of life is just a series of lessons in a never-ending course on how to love other humans. A course in which I am constantly being tested, and possibly failing.

Love is a difficult subject. Oh, it’s pleasant to think about, wonderful to be the recipient of, but nearly impossible in practice.

Love pushes against all of our natural instincts. Love is always giving of itself and never expecting anything in return. Love thrives when it spends itself. Love never complains, never holds back affection, never holds a grudge. Love takes all our abuses and returns them with kindness and compassion. Love is never destructive, but always mending what has been broken.

Unfortunately, we are not made up entirely of love. We are an incomprehensible fusion of love and lust, envy and imagination, optimism and dread, virtue and vice. This is the nature of humanity, these hybrid creatures with immortal souls inside deteriorating bodies. 

But God, who is Love, created us in His image. So if there is anything in us that loves, truly loves, that is our Creator making Himself known. A spark of divine love buried underneath all the layers of humanness. An enchanting hint of something better, that we are often inclined to keep buried. Maybe because we’re afraid. Afraid that we will share that spark with someone who won’t appreciate it or will waste it. So instead of embracing it like we were meant to, we hide it and guard it and push it back. So love collects dust like a book on the shelf, and we hand out cheap imitations. We are nice. We flatter and flirt and say lovely things. But you can do a lot of nice things and never really love. Something of yourself, your real self, needs to be on the line, otherwise it’s just a game. 

I think the reason we humans are so magnificently bad at loving is because we have accepted too many poor definitions of the word. We think “I need you” means the same thing as “I love you.” 

God can only truly love us because He doesn’t need us. Nothing we can do will ever add to or improve God’s quality of life. And yet He loves. He loves marvelously and unconditionally and perfectly. If we knew, really knew, how completely we are loved, I wonder if we might be a little braver in our love for each other.

When we know how we are already loved, no amount of rejection or indifference or unanswered texts or “it’s not you it’s me” or disappointment from other people will completely tear us down. When we know how much we are loved, then every day is a chance to love more, to love better, to love without expectations or conditions. 

That is how we learn to love. Not by studying it, but by choosing to live it. We can start by seeing our love as a gift to share, not an antique to preserve.

Blessed is She


(Luke 1:45)

When I was in middle school, I was chosen to play the part of Mary in our church Christmas program-a part that I would reprise several times. Each time, I searched through my Bible for mentions of Jesus’ mother. I wanted to know all about her. In part, it was to get into character. But it was also because I began to feel a strange kinship with Mary.

What stuck out to me each year, as I donned my blue head covering and foam baby bump, is just how little we know about Mary. The mother of our Savior claims no more than a few chapters out of the Bible.

But the little glimpses we do get of her are extraordinary.

Mary was not the typical female hero, not in her time or in ours. She wasn’t an Esther or a Ruth, wasn’t breathtakingly beautiful or startlingly bold.

What defined Mary was her very significant insignificance. Some might call it meekness.

Mary lived a simple, quiet, unambitious life. She had simple, quiet, unambitious plans. Until a heavenly messenger came to her with the impossible pronouncement that she would give birth to the Son of God. Emmanuel. God with us.

As scared and confused as she must have been, Mary believed against literally impossible odds that she was about to become a mother. And she accepts this role, knowing what it will do to her reputation. Imagining what it will do to her relationship with Joseph.

This was no small thing for Mary. I imagine Mary, a little bit like myself, was known around her home primarily as a “good girl.” Not really noteworthy, just nice, likable, and most importantly, good.

And then in a matter of months, when her condition could no longer be ignored, she wouldn’t appear so very good anymore. She would be an embarrassment. Someone you averted your eyes from. 

Who are you when your defining trait no longer fits you?

You are no one. An absolute nobody.

But it’s only when we become nothing that God can make anything out of us. That He can give us a new name, a new identity.

In Mary’s case, her new identity so far eclipsed her old one that it doesn’t seem fair to compare the two.

Instead of good, she was blessed. Instead of decent, she was favored.

Because it was never really Mary’s respectability that made her stand out in the eyes of God. It was her faith. Her ability to set aside everything her world told her was important-reputation, stability, stature- for a promise that God could truly dwell with us.

As long as we cling to our self-appointed identities- our goodness, our reputation, our relationship status, our career, our success, our failure, or our ministry- we can never fully realize that promise. But in letting go, we find freedom. We catch a glimpse of our place in the greater story of the universe, and we realize how incredibly small it is.

 And then, maybe, we will have the courage it takes to become an absolute nobody.



If I were given the choice between learning the easy way and the hard way, I would always, always pick the easy way. Give it to me in a book, or better yet, a chapter. Give it to me straight and simple. Let me pick out a quote and write it on a post-it note for my bulletin board. That’s how I like to learn.

I don’t like to learn the messy way. The way that requires making mistakes and being wrong. Because that hurts. Because I can’t control those lessons. Can’t package them in a way that hides the fact that they are actually unfinished and raw and ugly.

Lately I’ve realized that my prayers for grace have turned into thinly veiled prayers for an easier life. I pray that the kids I work with will behave, instead of asking for the strength to love them when they don’t. I ask for God to send people into my life that will make me feel accepted and fulfilled and happy, instead of praying that I will be the one who makes other people feel accepted and loved and valued. I pray for peace, for safety, for happiness, instead of that God’s will would be done.

Because I know that praying for that would invite a struggle, which is precisely what I most want to avoid.

But a grace that doesn’t include a fight is not real grace. Grace doesn’t avoid the messy, frustrating parts of life. Grace isn’t the peaceful moments when everything is going right. Grace is the moment in the middle of the struggle, when we see that we have lost control of the situation and maybe ourselves, and God gives just enough strength to get us through. And that moment of clarity that reveals to us just who we are and Who is in control, that is grace.

I recently taught a Sunday school lesson on King Asa, a man who had seen God do miracles in his life. Who had won battles against insurmountable odds simply because he believed that God was for him. And yet when was was older and more foolish, he abandoned that faith for a simple alliance with a human king. And he lost everything. Because he failed to see that God wanted to strengthen him. But He asked Asa to believe fully in Him, without a backup plan.

For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. (2 Chronicles 16:9)

We were never promised easy lives. We were warned that life would be filled with sorrow and pain and hard choices. But in the midst of the frustration and anxiety, we have a God who searches across the billions of people inhabiting this planet for one person who will choose Him over the tantalizing lie of an easy life. And when He finds you, He will be all the strength you need.

An Open Letter to My Future Self

Dear Future Self,

How are you? It’s been a while. In case you don’t remember me, I’m the version of you that still gets to wear jeans to work, drinks a lot of tea, and spends entirely too much time at the library.

I’m the one who thinks about you every day. I wonder who you’re with. If you’re happy. If you’re happier than me. If your life has more meaning than mine does. I wonder if you’re married or if you finally wrote that book. 

And I worry about you, future self. I worry about who and what you’ve lost since you were me. I worry about the sadness that has crept into your life. I’m afraid of what dreams we’ve given up on because they seemed too hard.

Future self, let’s get right to the point. This isn’t working for me, this preoccupation with someone who, quite frankly, doesn’t exist. My dreams and plans for you are becoming a distraction from this marvelous life that is happening to me right now

And as funny and confident and together as I imagine you to be, you will never be able to exist here in my today. You will always be ten steps ahead of me, and maybe it’s time for me to let you stay there.

Because this moment is where I live. It’s all I have to work with. And it’s all that matters in the end.

Because in Christ each moment is redeemed for a purpose, filled with life and promise. I have been given a million new moments- moments unaffected by past mistakes, unimpressed by past victories, unconcerned with intentions for future improvement. And I’ve spent too many of them making plans for you, future self, instead of living in them.

Worse, I ease my conscience by imaging all the great things you are doing to make the world better, instead of making my own world better. But you can’t do anything good for me or anyone else, because you don’t live here.

So let me forget about you, future self. I hope you are happy. I hope you are enjoying your moments. I hope you fall in love with people and places and life. I hope you are still surrounded by books, and laughter, and people who make life beautiful. I hope you appreciate them. And I hope you never give me more than a passing thought. I’ll do the same for you.

In the meantime, I’ll inhabit this moment- drinking chai tea and listening to Lecrae too loud. And the next one. And the hundred thousand other moments between me and you. 


(Present) Beth





I waited so long to write this because I wanted to be able to write it in the past tense.

I wanted to come to you with an inspirational story of how I struggled with my doubts and overcame. I wanted to tell you how I am a better person because of it, stronger and more sure of myself than ever.

One of the hardest things is to admit, present participle tense, that we are right in the middle of the struggle.

I am doubting.

I am searching.

Now I know that a lot of people who care about me quite a lot are regular readers, so I will be quick to clarify that I am not having a breakdown or losing my faith. But I think I am in what Christians politely refer to as “a dry spell.”

In Michael Gungor’s book, The Crowd, the Critic, and the Muse, he talks about three kinds of faith:

1. Professed Belief
2. Felt Belief
3. Lived Belief

When all three line up, Christianity becomes a vibrant, powerful, living reality in a person’s life. This is the kind of faith that shapes nations and heals old wounds and scales insurmountable barriers. It’s beautiful and irresistible.

But when any of these aspects of belief break down, we suffer for it.

Sometimes we will profess belief in all the Christian doctrines, live with typically Christian morality, and yet feel nothing more strongly than a vague sense of thankfulness.

Some of us may feel very strongly our need for a Savior, we may even profess a belief in Him, but then we live as if He made no difference in the “real” world of living and working and interacting with each other.

Or maybe some of us will feel that God exists and that He is good, but we can’t understand Who He Is or why He allows what He allows, and it becomes hard to profess the beliefs that we once found so natural.

We can go on living with doubt, sometimes without ever acknowledging that we have begun to doubt at all. Sometimes doubt is subtle and quiet.

Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes doubt is loud and painful. 

But, loud or quiet, I’ve realized that doubt is always based on emotion. It’s a reflection of our humanity, not an indicator that God has somehow been weakened. 

There are times when I feel distant from my beliefs, like the person who wrote about trust with so much confidence just a few months ago was someone other than me. And then I’m tempted to hate myself for having doubts. Or I try to force feelings that I don’t have through sheer will power. 

But when I do that, I’m putting my faith in my own intellect and my own feelings. If I truly believe in a Sovereign God, then I have to believe in a Truth that is transcendent. A Truth that is greater than whether or not on a given day I feel that it is true. 

Ten years ago, I made a commitment that I would follow Jesus, that I would trust Him above all else, including myself. So sometimes my faith looks like sticking to that promise even when the feelings aren’t there, trusting that in time the feelings will return. And knowing that even if they never do, I will trust Him still. 

Some days my faith is just the prayer, “I believe, help my unbelief.” 

We’re so quick to label doubt as the enemy of faith, but maybe the way we act in doubt is proof that our faith is real. 

Because it’s not admitting that you have doubts that will get in the way of your faith. It’s claiming a belief while living as if you don’t believe it that will destroy your faith in the end. 

Civility Project #3: Think the Best

 look for

This point is the one that I feel perhaps least qualified to discuss and the most in need of myself. Thinking the best of other people has never been a natural strength of mine. To be honest, I am far too often judgmental and critical and I jump to all the worst conclusions. And I know it’s wrong, I’m fully aware how horrible it will make me feel, and still I keep finding faults. Keep staring at the speck in my neighbor’s eye. Why?

Because I’m insecure.

I recently realized what I probably should have noticed long ago: That the days when I find the most to dislike in other people are the days when I’m feeling the most inadequate and inexperienced and dull and plain.

This is perhaps one of the saddest parts of being human in a fallen world is the nagging sensation that if someone else is doing well, it somehow takes away from my own well-being. Or that the existence of beautiful people diminishes my own appearance. Or that I can’t really be smart if someone else is getting better grades than me.

And so instead of celebrating goodness, and fortune, and beauty, and intelligence- we try to bring people who have those traits down a notch or two. Try to find their weaknesses and expose them. For no other reason than to feel for a few seconds that we are not so ordinary and insignificant ourselves.

Or we seek out the people who aren’t living up to our standards and criticize them. Her choices, his lifestyle, the way she just doesn’t handle things the way I would if I were her. Because we get a few moments of satisfaction out of putting them in their proper place- just below us.

And this endless, pointless competition drags on, infiltrating our schools, our workplaces, our families, our churches, and our friendships. We know that we aren’t likely to win (we don’t really know what constitutes winning anyways), but we sure-as-the-sun-will-rise are not going to let her beat us. And instead of enjoying our journey we become obsessed with checking our standings, determined not to fall behind or let anyone else move ahead.

So we turn ourselves into competitors when we were always meant to be teammates.

 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.  But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. (Titus 3:3-4)

God’s love is what allows us to escape from that endless cycling between pride and self-loathing, because in His love there is no competition.  There is no one beautiful enough or good enough or spiritual enough to get ahead in God’s eyes, nor is there anyone too dirty or too foolish or too human to be loved completely.

And so thinking the best of others starts with simply thinking of yourself realistically. You are infinitely loved. I’ve said it before, but it can never be repeated too often. You are loved infinitely and unconditionally by the One who both created and redeemed you.

You are also human. You are a foolish, willful, deceived human. For all your best efforts, you are going to fail sometimes. Accept both the love and failure equally. And celebrate the God who loves you with all your faults still loudly asserting themselves.

The next thing is to check your own heart. Is your judgment of someone being colored by your jealousy? Are you just basing your opinion on rumors? Are you feeling threatened that they may take something from you? Are you criticizing people for something you know yourself to be guilty of? We can never really change the way we think about people- and in turn how we treat them- until we deal with our own baggage.

Thinking the best of others does not mean foolishly ignoring warning signs when someone doesn’t have your best interests in mind, and it doesn’t mean being unthinkingly trusting. Not everyone will be worthy of your trust and respect.

 But it might mean giving someone the benefit of the doubt, instead of assuming the worst. It might mean allowing yourself a second or third chance after a bad first impression. It might mean telling yourself that maybe she really did mean well (even when you don’t think she did). Or choosing to focus on the good qualities of a co-worker or family member, instead of fixating on an annoying quirk.

Thinking the best is hard. It requires intentionality. There are times when the only way I can think the best of someone who seems to be criticizing me is by literally repeating in my head “She means it in a nice way. She means it in a nice way,” until I start to believe it.

But thinking the best of people is worth the effort. You can drop out of the race, because you finally see that there will never be a winner.  You can meet new people and enjoy what you have in common, instead of worrying that they may be better than you in some way.

We will always find what we look for. If we look for reasons to dislike people, we will find plenty. But my theory is that if we instead look for reasons to like people, we will find more than enough.

Civility Project #2: Listen


Let me begin by saying, listening is not my forte. As a teenager, I was so eager to say something right, or clever, or funny that I spent most conversations rehearsing what I was going to say next, completely missing what else that was being said as I mentally tried out different ways of wording what was going to contribute next.

Then as a freshman in college, I took a class in interpersonal communication where my professor challenged us to try actively and purposefully listening. No daydreaming, no jumping ahead to thinking about what our reply would be, no checking phones or looking for someone else to talk to. To be honest, I had never realized what a bad listener I was until I made an attempt to be better. And at times it felt almost impossible. I would catch myself planning responses before I realized what I was doing. Or worse, I realized how many times I actually cut people off because I just had to say my piece while it was fresh in my mind. It was embarrassing and humbling to watch my own self-absorption play out in conversations and realize how annoying I must have been to talk to.

 I’ve gotten much better at listening in the past few years, which has more to say about how truly terrible I was then than it says about how well I listen now. But I continue to fight the almost instinctual habit of checking out when people are talking to me. And I fight it because I really believe that you are worth listening to, and not just hearing.

I think far too often we approach a conversation with a mindset that doesn’t encourage genuine listening. It’s a little like the way people think when they are on social media. We don’t go on facebook to challenge our thinking about a controversial or nuanced issue. We don’t go on twitter to get to know someone on a deeper level or attempt to understand their challenges. We use these sites to gather interesting facts and gossip, to spout our opinions, to make ourselves look good, to be entertained, or to get validation from people liking us. And admittedly, that’s what social media is for.

But how does that kind of thinking affect our person-to-person conversations?  When we’re only in a conversation to be entertained or to put forward our own opinions without attempting to understand another point of view, we are never going to experience any of the rewards of understanding another person.

Listening, like paying attention, is an act of will. It takes intentionality and practice.  As P.M. Forni writes in Choosing Civility, in order to be a good listener, you need to make listening your primary goal in an interaction. Even reminding yourself from time to time, “right now I will just listen.”

Intentional listening means:

  • removing distractions.
  • putting your to-do list out of your mind for a little while.
  • only giving your opinion when asked.
  • asking questions to clarify a word or concept.
  • respecting the other person’s privacy (and not asking questions simply out of curiosity).
  • showing signs that you understand or are trying to understand their point of view.

Sometimes people will say things that we don’t agree with. Listening doesn’t mean that we agree or appear to agree with everything that other people say. But it does mean that we should show people that we recognize and understand their point of view, even as we disagree with them. Disagreeing respectfully is one of the finest displays of civility, and it’s impossible if we don’t know how to listen without a pre-existing agenda. To listen is to assume that there is always something for you to learn in every interaction- even if that is just how to be a better listener.


Listening without agenda is a form of self-denial that doesn’t come naturally. It hurts a bit to put yourself second in a conversation. To accept the possibility that you may never get the chance to say what you are so eager to say. To keep quiet when everything in you is screaming I just have to tell them what I think about this!! 

So why bother? If it’s so unnatural to listen, why don’t we just give up? For me, it always comes back to Christ, who is in everything the ultimate example. Christ, who had all the glory of the ages and could have exercised His genuine right to come to Earth in splendor- Who easily could have made every single person He came in contact with fall to the ground in awe and terror- and instead He came in humility. He allowed Himself to become like one of us, able to be overlooked or ignored. Someone who, if you passed him on the street, wouldn’t warrant a second glance.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Phillipians 2:5-8) 

Treating others kindly always starts with an act of humility, with a decision to think of ourselves more realistically in relation to our God and each other. It’s so easy to think that our opinions, our emotions, and our stories are more significant than what others have to share, but, well, they aren’t.

I, for one, need to remember that more often.