Dear Friend Struggling with Homosexuality

Dear Friend Struggling with Homosexuality

Dear Friend,

I’m told you are a homosexual. Is it gay? Is it practicing homosexuality? Is it you’ve switched sides? I don’t even know how to say it.

First, I need to apologize. We, your brothers and sisters in Christ, have presented you with a religion with standards that we can’t possibly live up to. Instead of trying to fix you from the outside in, we should have been introducing you to a Person. 

To quote one of my favorite theological books, The Jesus Storybook Bible, “Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done.”

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Why We Love Liam Neeson [Guest Post]

Why We Love Liam Neeson [Guest Post]

Liam Neeson is an interesting actor. For one, Schindler’s List was released back in 1993, and he honestly doesn’t look much older now than he did when he acted in that movie over 20 years ago. Second, other than Star Wars:The Phantom Menace and Batman Begins (which I wouldn’t really label as purely action films), Liam didn’t become an action movie star until the original Taken came out in 2008. That’s right—the man became an action film star at the age of 56! That’s incredible! I’m only 38 years old, and I’ve already got issues with sciatica.

But I mentioned Taken, and that movie really was the turning point for Liam Neeson. It propelled him into another category altogether in the eyes of the movie-goer, making him both kick-butt cool, and intensely trustworthy. Let me explain what I mean.

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Maple Seeds, The Word of God and Christmas

Maple Seeds, The Word of God and Christmas

I love maple seeds. When God designed them, I think He was just having fun. They come with their own little helicopter wing and when you scoop up a bunch and throw them up in the air, they spin and float all over the place with a big wink from God. But what do they have to do with the Word of God and Christmas?

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Why a Good Leader Knows When To Let Go

By Kevin Young

This is a guest post by Kevin Young. I’ve known Kevin since I was a freshman in college, when I volunteered at Cru High School and he was my Director. Since then, he has not only become a trusted spiritual mentor, he is a true father figure to my husband Moses and me. He’s also a very talented writer. You can read his blog here and follow him on Twitter

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I had invited him, along with a small team of others to a school called Thomas Jefferson, in East New York, known for violence and poor graduation rates. The week before I had helped a dazed and bloodied student off the floor after she had been beat up, her blouse ripped, eyes glazed over. This was no place for the faint at heart, and so when I asked him to do classroom talks, I was curious to see how he would be received by some of the toughest kids in New York City. What I saw changed everything. While I sat in that broken school desk, I heard a voice inside. 

“Do you see their eyes, how they identify with him? They know he understands them, they know they have found someone to follow.”

And I knew I had found my Jeremiah.

His name is Moses Sanchez, and he lives with his wife Marilette, and their two children in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The best part of the story is how God led us together, but the most important part is how an older man needed to step aside, and let a Jeremiah take his place.

Moses’ story begins in the Bronx, and a flat out sprint trying to ditch the cops. He had just witnessed his mother’s arrest, and she had screamed to him, “run!” Next stop foster care, but if you know anything about Jeremiahs, they don’t stand still. He would disappear on long subway rides across the city, running, always running—at seven years old. A couple years later he made a soft landing into a Christian home, into the arms of a mom who took him in and adopted him as her own. Moses could have become a statistic, part of a number on a print out—one in four foster kids in NYC end up homeless. But God had other plans. Over the next several years He led him to families who loved him, cared for him, and shaped him. At his wedding, he had four sets of what he calls his ‘mom & dad,’ all for different reasons, and all brought into his life in the nick of time. That ceremony was a baptism of tears, a celebration of God’s amazing grace. I’ll never forget his words to his real mom. “I love you, because you loved me enough to send me away.”

These sovereign foundations give Jeremiahs an early, mature and determined faith to speak to God and man without fear. As Moses tells it, he needed $10,000 for each of the two years remaining at The King’s College. He wouldn’t continue there without it. He prayed. Literally in the same week, not knowing anything about his need or his cry to God, I met with a ministry partner, a long time friend of Cru, who said he “had an idea.” “I’d like to give $10,000 a year to the King’s College to scholarship an intern to work with your ministry.” I immediately thought of Moses. “But should I split the investment,” I thought, “involve more than one?”

The following week Moses and I were standing outside a school in lower Manhattan, and had just met a junior gang member named Manny. He was short, mean looking, and scowled the way kids like that do, in order to keep a healthy distance, command respect. After my attempt at reaching out, I asked Moses to tell his story. I needed to know if he had the stuff to deliver in evangelism. I remember Manny moved his sight from me and stared him down. Moments later, after listening to Moses, he was wiping tears from his eyes. “Your story man, it’s, it’s mine, too,” he said haltingly. This time the little voice was louder. 

“Here is the future of ministry to New York City’s 1.2 million students. And by the way, give him the whole amount.”

All through his internship, Moses told me he was going into teaching when he graduated. I prayed God would show him otherwise. But his vision seemed stronger than my invitation to join our team, and so off he went. It broke my heart, honestly tore a hole in it. I didn’t know if it was selfish, or maternal. We had spent so much time together. While my insides were aching, the voice whispered. “Wait, I have more to teach him.” When I got an unexpected call from him several months later, I thought it was just to catch up. We sat in our favorite spot at LuLu Bean Café in Brooklyn, and he told me through tears he was out of God’s will. He needed to re-engage with us.

For some unknown reason, in that moment I saw several years stretched out all at once, and Moses stepping up to a place of leadership—into my post! I felt threatened, relieved, but mostly awe. Fear gripped me, a wonder in the wisdom and persistence of God upon a young man’s life, and the patience in an old man. When the voice spoke this time, “He is the man,” there was nothing to say.

I didn’t tell anyone what I had heard. It was a lonely burden I kept for many months. A great mission needs a great young soul to drive it, nurture it, call others around it, and ultimately to believe God for it. Today’s Jeremiahs need the older guard to step aside and let them lead. And so, the time came all too quickly, when God demanded that hard step of me. 

“You are asking me to leave the city I love." 

"Yes,” God responded, “but unless you leave, this young man will never fail enough, nor suffer enough to be great enough to carry my will.”

Epilogue: This spring I handed Moses a baseball, symbolic of the way a manager takes the mound and relieves one pitcher and installs the next. It’s his turn now, and I have a hunch he’s going to pitch a better game than me. I’m so glad. He’s already doing things I only dreamed of. This Jeremiah happens to be called Moses, but his story is only part of a larger one unfolding today. We who are older, wiser and more invested must ask God to open our eyes to see how we can give the Jeremiahs around us a place to lead, then get out of the way. They may be untested, but they are undaunted.

QUESTION: In what way is God calling you to let go in order to let Him to have His way with a ‘Jeremiah’ in your own life? Let me know in the comments below.

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Shia LaBeouf: Why Prayers Work

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Most likely, you’ve heard by now that Shia LaBeouf revealed that a woman raped him during his #IAMSORRY performance art exhibit in L.A earlier this year.

Now, we’re not about to sit here and say for sure that it definitely happened or that it definitely didn’t happen. Some people are backing up his claims. Somepeople are insisting that it’s all a publicity stunt.

It doesn’t matter whether Shia’s culpable or not, it’s God’s job to deal with the sin. Ours is to protect our little brother (because he’s younger in the faith). How? Refuse to gossip and choose to pray.

Now, I (Marilette) have been a brokenrecord with this “pray for celebrities” topic. But the truth remains, most of us Christians are more likely to point out Shia’s “lack of fruit” in his Christian walk than pray for him. With fists raised, we demand to know: Is he even a Christian?

I love how Hillsong NYC’s Carl Lentz put it, referring to his well-documented relationship with Justin Bieber. “I tell people grace and acceptance does not mean approval. I can accept you as a human being and not approve of your actions. That’s how we’ve been loved. We love because we were first loved.“

My heart breaks again every time Shia talks about his relationship with his Vietnam-vet, former drug-addict, verbally-abusive dad. Can God remove brain and heart damage caused by abuse in minutes? Yes. Does he always heal instantly? No. He often prefers to cycle through healing because it’s better for our faith in the long run. But if Shia doesn’t have protection from us believers (via prayers on his behalf), there’s no way his pain will ever be removed.

I (Alyssa) have to admit that sometimes I cringe when people say, “The only thing we can do is pray,” because what we really mean is: “Oh yeah, it’s absolutely hopeless, but let’s schluff off a prayer so we feel we’ve done everything we can.

A few weeks ago, I was at a morning prayer meeting at my church. Our leader said God wanted us to pray for a young black girl in a pink coat–the leader could see her face clearly. So we did. A few days later, this story about a Philadelphia kidnapping popped up on the news. Our leader watched the news story about how a young black woman was rescued. He saw her face, and realized it was the same woman he’d seen two days before. The kidnapper had killed other victims in previous crimes, but this woman was rescued within days and had no major injuries.

God’s payment plan for intercessors is answered prayer. When you see an incredible response in the world to something you were praying for, you are motivated to keep praying.

I thought that after I wrote the first article about Shia’s conversion, I would stop heavy lifting in my spirit for Shia. But I keep praying and praying hard. I’m praying because God is demanding that I do.

I have known and loved God for over 20 years. I have a strong faith. I have spiritual gifts to use. So like Romans 15:1 says, that gives me responsibility. And if I don’t take that burden, it’s bad news. “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals.’” (Ezekiel 34:1-10).

Weak. Sick. Injured. Stray. Lost. Scattered. Sounds like Shia to me.

Well doesn’t he know better? Probably not.

In prayer, I asked God what is plaguing Shia. God revealed to me that Shia is haunted by a spirit of iniquity, literally lawlessness. What happens when you spend your lifetime longing for approval from an abusive dad; when the movie industry is demanding your best work, only to sprawl you out in the public eye; when truth is preached as a flimsy ideal? You want freedom.

But Satan has a good counterfeit for freedom: “anything goes.”

Shia doesn’t really understand moral lines (which, by the way, also explains the chronic plagiarism). It’s the cry of his generation that doesn’t have any anchor to truth.

In this new article, Shia says he looks up to Joaquin Phoenix. My favorite movie of Phoenix’s is Walk the Line, which shows Johnny Cash’s raging, messy journey out of darkness. I’m still praying for Shia because I believe God is going to use him in a parallel journey.

It’s crucial for Christians to speak life, not death, because our words become reality.

Let’s not abandon our posts of covering our weakest members in prayer. Let’s not let Shia slip through the cracks.

QUESTION: Why is it so easy for us Christians to underestimate and even dismiss the power of prayer? Let me know in the comments below.

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Why We Must Drop the Stigma of Mental Illness

By Stephanie Jonasson

This is a guest post from Stephanie, my dear friend from college. Stephanie got her start in the field of mental health working as a Mental Health ParaProfessional in a Residential Treatment Program for teens. She has since transitioned into donor development (for the same non-profit health organization) where she spends her time helping the local community better understand what it means to struggle with mental illness.

I’m so excited that Marilette invited me to share my two cents on the recent loss of one of my favorite comedians, and some of the misconceptions that surround suicide and mental illness. The news has been inundated this week with the gory details of Robin Williams’ suicide. I’ve watched as conversations sprang up around me on social media, in the hours after the news broke as people tried to come to grips with what had happened. The opinions I encountered ran the gamut of emotion from anger, which accuses him of being “selfish” for leaving his family behind, to pity, which absolves Mr. Williams of all responsibility for his actions. 

My experience with mental illness is both professional and familial. I have provided direct care for teens in treatment for mental health issues; and I’ve seen the devastation that depression (and illnesses like it) has caused in my family. In all that time, I’ve learned one important thing: people who suffer from chronic mental illness are fighting forces that have literally re-wired their brain chemistry.

They didn’t ask for it, and they can’t just “fix it” – at least not at this point in medical technology. In a lot of cases it can be treated quite well, but I’ve also seen some horror stories where it has taken a lot of trial and error just to get someone stabilized.

Suicide takes a sad mental health story and turns it into a nightmare. Any time someone dies, his or her family and friends bear the grief of that loss. They have to struggle with everything not said and the important moments their loved one will miss. It’s so much worse, however, having to look back and know that this person, for whom you cared so deeply, despaired enough to take his or her own life.  I would do just about anything for the ones that I love, and I can’t imagine the guilt and grief that comes from knowing they were hurting and I didn’t stop it. It’s easy from that perspective to call the one who has died “selfish”. But in most cases, people stay alive longer because they care about the family and friends they would leave behind. They don’t want to hurt the people they love; they just want to stop hurting

Don’t get me wrong: suicide is NEVER the right solution for depression. Suicide doesn’t just “happen” to people, it has to be chosen and carried out. The destruction of self is so against the image of God that we were created to be, that it should be repugnant to all of us. But we can never forget – even in our grief – that it’s a choice some people make because they feel like they have no better alternative.

Living with mental illness is such a frightening experience. Humans are great at intervening in a physical crisis (floods for example) but issues like depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia send people running for the hills. Often when people do notice that something is wrong they respond with criticism for symptoms. This kind of reaction makes experiencing depression like trying to swim laps with concrete blocks on your ankles while the lifeguard yells at you for falling behind. The person battling mental illness needs help and mercy, not judgment. For example: someone might be censured for erratic sleep patterns, profanity, and excessive drinking but it takes someone with experience to recognize the self-treatment of an underlying anxiety disorder. 

As Christians, we should be at the forefront of helping our brothers and sisters who are struggling with mental illness. We know we live in a fallen world where God’s creation doesn’t function as He originally intended. Why are we then surprised when our minds (a physical and biological entity apart from our spirits) are also marred from the effects of the Fall? I’ve heard well-meaning Christians advise people with depression to “pray more” for healing or “joy”. Yet those same people would never suggest a cancer victim solely rely on prayer – to the exclusion of medical and community support – for healing. We have to start recognizing depression and other mental illness as a legitimate health issue, and abandon the stigma that keeps us from talking about it openly.

Community is so desperately important for people who struggle with depression.  An astonishing 50-70% of people will tell someone before they attempt suicide. They don’t have to reach a point where they consider suicide. There is hope. Someone who is centered in his faith, actively seeking help from his community, and receiving medical attention is significantly less likely to commit suicide. (Not saying it couldn’t happen in an extreme case, but the odds are significantly reduced.) But they need to know that they can talk about their struggle without being judged for struggling. 

I grieve for Robin Williams and the family he left behind.  In him, we lost a kind man who inspired us with desktop monologues and infused our lives with humor. I can only hope that his death will continue to foster discussion about depression and suicide, for the sake of everyone out there who is still struggling.

QUESTION: Why do we Christians tend to lump mental health with spiritual and not physical ailments, thereby making it something we can only “pray away”? Let me know in the comments below.

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Why I Willingly Gave Up My Dream Career

By Tracy Pierson

This is a guest post by my good friend Tracy. She is a fellow full-time missionary with Cru, serving middle and high schools in Chattanooga, TN. She is also a very talented singer/ songwriter. You can read her blog or follow her on Twitter.

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In most cases, you lie down and then you dream. In my case, I dreamt only to find that laying down came next.

From the time I was a teenager, I was passionate about music. A self-proclaimed singer-songwriter from the age of 13, music has been my longest relationship. Even when I changed my major from music to education, my desire to perform professionally never waned.

When I gave my life to Christ in high school, I began to see a pattern develop: God would bring the things I loved to the surface, show me that I loved them more than him, and then ask me to lay them down. That was fine when it was shopping or watching “Friends,” but as my love for Jesus grew, the things that crowded Him out were deeper and more entrenched in my heart. In the back of my mind, I kept saying, “This is all well and good, but I don’t know what I’ll do if God ever asks me to lay down a career in music.” I had judged and resented those that I saw around me that had given up their dreams. I drew a line in the sand and said, “That will never be me.”

I don’t typically subscribe to the whole, “Don’t say you won’t ever go to Africa, because that’s exactly where God will send you” mentality that I hear a lot of Christians peddle. I don’t think God’s character is so simple and vindictive. What I do know is that He is jealous. He will never let anything or anyone stand in the place that He rightfully deserves as the object of my affection. In my heart, I knew this would mean that one day, He would approach me and my dream of becoming a musician.

As part of my calling into full-time ministry, I had to choose between pursuing a music career and following God to wherever He was leading. As I sobbed into the carpet of my bedroom, I envisioned my fists clenched tightly around this career that I always wanted—a life married to music. Unfortunately, without opening my fists, there was no room for anything else. A life with what I wanted most suddenly became a life of misery. Simply to ease the pain, I laid down the career in music that I was convinced I was made for.

You may be tempted to call this a moment of weakness. Maybe you’re drawing a line in the sand already and, like me, saying “That will never be me.” It’s tempting to circumvent this process, and truly, a lot of people do. Following your dream is what every American is already doing. But the way of the Cross is consistently one of laying things down. Every disciple is called to Jesus by being called away from something else that has trumped their love for God: whether it’s their livelihood, their father, or their life of sin.

Is it wrong to dream at all, though? According to my logic, God will ask for and take away whatever He finds there, after all. In fear of what we will certainly lose, we can easily be hesitant to unveil our dreams—even to ourselves. As I’ve wrestled with this exact question, I’ve come to this conclusion: Dreams are a gift and so is laying them down.

Only in the process of relinquishing our dreams can we understand the value of what we receive in return: Jesus Himself. In asking for our dreams, Jesus gives us the opportunity to sell everything to purchase the field of treasure. The bigger the dream, the more valuable the treasure must be for us to forsake it. It’s not that our dreams aren’t important to God—they are. In fact, I think He dares us to dream as big as we possibly can, because He intends to surpass them—by leaps and bounds and wild imaginings—with Himself. If we would only loosen the vice-grip on our dreams, then He would fill your arms with the bounty of His presence. I don’t know about you, but that really is a dream come true. 

QUESTION: What is the hardest thing God has asked you to give up for His sake? What was the aftermath? Let me know in the comments below.

(Photo via)

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What the 'Noah' Film Taught Us About Fear

By Alyssa Plock

This is a guest post from Alyssa, my dear friend and roommate from college. A talented screenwriter and actor, Alyssa has worked as an assistant to Sally Lloyd Jones, author of the beloved The Jesus Storybook Bible. Alyssa currently works as a radio producer in upstate New York. You can read her blog or follow her on Twitter.

In the Message paraphrase of the Bible, Noah’s story begins: “Noah was a good man, a man of integrity in his community. Noah walked with God.” In the blockbuster Noah, the title character played by Russell Crowe neither walks with God nor hears from him. Without God speaking, the whole game changes. Especially in the second half of the movie, Noah trusts not God, but his enemy.

People who have seen the movie may say, “What do you mean? He prays a lot!” Yes, he prays. Then he acts in his own strength which does nothing to alter the wrong path he has already chosen.

The pivotal scene in the movie is where Noah leaves the ark before the flood comes to go find wives for his two younger sons. He enters the nearby camp of men and sees the fullness of evil in the world: girls are sold; bodies are lined in pits; starving people rip live animals to shreds with their bare hands. Noah watches a man grab a piece of flesh and savagely devour it. The man looks at Noah and hisses before going back to his meal. In horror, Noah realizes the man is him.

He comes back to the ark convinced that he and his family are too evil to survive and their only purpose of entering the ark will be to save the animals. The rest of the movie centers around Noah’s descent into madness as he tightens his grip on those he loves.

A dash of discernment would have alerted Noah that what he saw was from Satan not God.  But Noah does not recognize it as such. Every decision Noah makes after seeing this satanic deception is based on fear, and the more afraid he gets, the more control he seeks. The more control he seeks, the more he abuses his family. Fear is what drives Noah to abandon a young woman to her death, isolate himself from his family and stop six inches shy of murder. Although the Noah movie is not a historically accurate portrayal of the biblical story, it does present a vivid warning to Christian leaders not to abandon faith in their decision-making.

Noah illustrates the procession of a leader’s fear-based decline:

1. God gives you direction for your life.

Noah sees the world covered in a flood and later sees an ark.

2. You begin to walk in that vision and start to get excited about it.

Noah builds the ark and puts the animals on board.

3. Satan pitches an alternative vision.

The Noah look-alike in the camp is sending the message: “You and your family are too evil to survive.”

4. You listen to Satan’s false advertising, which is as ancient as “Did God really say…?” in Eden.

Noah believes the message and starts shutting out everything else outside of that vision.

5. Fear quickly slips into control.

Noah decides his two younger sons will have no wives and his oldest son’s wife (an enjoyable Emma Watson) can only come on board because he thinks she’s barren. When he finds out she is pregnant, he vows to kill the newborn child if it is a girl–a girl could keep the line of men going.

6. Faith-filled people begin to annoy you to the point of hatred.

As Noah’s madness deepens, he can no longer tolerate his sound-minded wife (Jennifer Connelly) and daughter-in-law. He cannot stand to be around his family. And his family cannot stand to be around him.

7. Your prayers seem to go unheard.

Noah asks God if he should kill his grandchild when it is born. Later, his daughter-in-law says the rain stopping is a sign that the Creator is smiling on the child, what I believe to be the correct interpretation. Noah is too deaf and blind to the answer, though, because the control has become such a stronghold.

8. Your ministry crashes as you and those under your leadership get hurt.

Noah does eventually show mercy to his daughter-in-law, but after 9 months of torture, she breaks down in the deepest, soul-crushed shrieks, you wonder if she will ever recover. As soon as the boat hits dry land, Noah, still cut off from his family, finds a cave in which to waste away. Eventually, he begins to find his faith again and repair some damage with his family, but some relationships are lost forever.

Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Christian leaders, we must be careful not to drive away the power of God by choosing fear rather than faith. Acting in fear makes us lose the power we had when we were walking in accordance with God’s truth. And letting fear fill your mind is putting that yoke of slavery over those you lead. The Spirit of Christ is a spirit of freedom–He will not stick around if you are driving your ministry forward in your own cowardice.

Is “fear” the loudest voice you hear when making decisions? Cast off that yoke of fear before it does irreparable damage to you and those whom you lead.

QUESTION: Have you ever allowed fear and control infect your ministry or leadership? Let me know in the comments below.

Millenials and Marriage: Why We Can’t Get What We Want

By Amber Lapp

This is a guest post from Amber, my dear friend from college. She and her husband David are Research Fellows at the Institute for Family Studies, Affiliate Scholars at the Institute for American Values, and co-investigators of the Love and Marriage in Middle America Project, a qualitative research inquiry into how working-class young adults form relationships and families. Amber’s work has appeared in media outlets such as The Atlantic Online, First Things, and The Huffington Post. She is mommy to sweet toddler Daniel and newborn Peter. You can read her blog or follow her on Twitter.

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My husband David and I have spent the past three and a half years interviewing and writing about Millenials (18-33 year olds) and their experiences forming relationships and families. What we’ve heard has convinced us that while young adults are delaying marriage, they still value marriage. Despite spouting off excuses (fear of divorce and few positive marriage models; little trust in the opposite sex; job instability and lack of financial peace; changing norms when it comes to sex, cohabitation, and childbearing; an over-idealized notion of romantic love; and more), Millenials still have a deep desire for marriage.

A recent article at National Review Online tells us that Millenials are “connected to friends, family, and colleagues on the ‘new platforms of the digital era,’” yet are disconnected from “the core human institutions that have sustained the American experiment— work, marriage, and civil society.” Only about 44 percent of young adults aged 18 to 29 are employed full-time. Only 26 percent are married, and almost half of children born to Millenials are born to unmarried women. Only 19 percent of Millenials say that “most people can be trusted.”

As a Millenial myself, these stats strike me as true, but tragic, something David and I wrote about at First Things last month. The good news, though, is that this is not the way Millenials want things to be. When it comes to marriage, young adults are not giving up. 80 percent of us still say that marriage is an “important” part of our life plan, according to the Knot Yet Report.

In one breath they might say, “Marriage is just a piece of paper.” But in the next, they say that it’s a piece of paper they want and that is important. David and I have made sense of this seeming contradiction by noting that it has a lot to do with the discrepancy between what young adults see as the ideal and what they see as reality. Ideally, they’d like to get married and create a stable family for their kids. But they feel that in reality this is hard to do, fewer and fewer people are doing it, and they are not sure how to do it themselves.

“Everybody wants that—it’s their dream,” 20-year-old Julie said of marriage when we interviewed her. Her friend Kelly agreed, tossing her blonde hair before wrinkling her pixie nose and asking, “But is it reality these days?”

Most of us struggle with the disconnect between what we want and what is realistic for us to attain. But with young adults and marriage, the gap seems glaringly impossible to bridge.

That’s why I’m so encouraged by initiatives like I Believe in Love (iBil), an online community of young adults dedicated to helping each other “write a different story about lasting love in America.”  Their “About Us” page explains that the site is “written by real people telling real stories about real love” who are seeking “to understand how to get to love, marriage and family life, and how it to keep it.”

We Millenials must resist the temptation to allow life’s experiences to make us jaded by love. Take Mary, an iBil contributor, as an example. Six days before her freshman year of college, her parents separated. By choosing to surrounding herself with “couples who are in it for the long run,” she was able to move past her skeptical feelings toward marriage, and beyond her thoughts that marriage was nothing but “a hopeless cause.”

Most Millenials may be disconnected from marriage, work, and civil society—but it’s also something that we, like Mary, must take ownership of through creative measures of our own.

QUESTION: Why is there such a big gap between the ideal and reality when it comes to young people and marriage? Let me know in the comments below.

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Why God Isn't Obligated To Fulfill Our Desires

By Tracy Pierson

This is a guest post by my good friend Tracy Pierson. She is a fellow full-time missionary with Cru, serving middle and high schools in Chattanooga, TN. She is also a very talented singer/ songwriter. You can read her blog or follow her on Twitter.

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I’m approaching my 30th birthday and I’m still single.

I was 27 on my first date, the age my mother was when she gave birth to her first child. I honestly enjoy being single, but my journey has also been painful.

I’ve watched friend after friend after friend after friend get married and start families. I’ve had to initiate a breakup because I was being led down a specific path of ministry—and he wasn’t. I’ve suffered through loneliness, questioned my beauty (inside and out), and doubted my sexuality and femininity.

Too many times, I’ve begged God to take away my desire to get married, but He hasn’t. I’ve read every book about being a “happy single girl” ever published (it’s a rather large section at Lifeway Christian bookstore). I’ve had people give me all sorts of advice when they have no clue what my life is like.

When I was in college, several of us were bemoaning our singleness—it was one of our favorite pastimes, right behind mocking our football team and descending like locusts on a Starbucks. In my deep theological wisdom, I cited one of the most misquoted scripture verses in our generation: “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

My reasoning went like this:

  1. God gives you the desires of your heart.
  2. I want to get married. Therefore…
  3. God MUST send me a husband” (who played guitar and looked like Vin Diesel—we didn’t have Ryan Reynolds back then).

I’ll never forget what happened next. Like a toddler with a blow dart, my buddy Stephen lobbed the following sentence out into the universe. “You’re not guaranteed to get married.” I didn’t argue, nor did I punch him in the stomach. But I had never been so afraid.

Years later, I was driving home in the rain and I lamenting the fact that I was still UN-married. I started to wonder aloud, What if I never get married?  I heard God whisper back, What if you don’t?

Like during my college days, my immediate reaction was terror.

Quickly thereafter, God began to speak tenderly to me:

Tracy, what if you live your whole life with this longing on earth and you don’t get married? What if I’m the only husband you ever have? What if the only wedding dress you wear is when you attend the wedding feast of the Lamb? Will that be enough for you?

Suddenly, my desire to get married looked pathetically small and lackluster. I remembered the years of walking through the painful and joyful moments of my singleness with Him—seeing Him prove Himself to be working all things together for my good.

I was experiencing what my favorite Narnian, C.S. Lewis, had meant when he said:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased”

(C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses).

Whether it’s to get married, have children, or to “get out of this town once and for all,” the pull of our desires can nearly tear us to bits. We simply cannot imagine anything stronger. We see the invitation of Jesus as a quid-pro-quo business deal: if we follow him, he’ll give us our Christmas list. He extends his nail-scarred hand—the proof of his love and our freedom—and we assume it’s so we can shake on our agreement. We even look at God—the infinite Creator of time and space—and wonder if what He has to offer could match what we can see and taste and touch.

Contrary to my 21-year-old self’s understanding of Psalm 37:4, that verse is not a formula on how to strong-arm God into bringing me what I want (even if it’s something noble and good). It’s a reminder that God will faithfully give of Himself if indeed it is a relationship with Him that I seek. 

QUESTION: Have you ever tried to twist God’s arm into fulfilling your desires? Let me know in the comments below.

Panic! At The Disco's Spencer Smith Admits Addiction, Helps Others

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When Panic! at the Disco released their latest music video for their newest single, “Miss Jackson,” fans had one question: Where’s Spencer Smith? Smith, the band’s drummer, and front-man Brendon Urie have been in Panic! since its creation. And while Urie is often thrown in the spotlight–where he seems to thrive–Smith is not usually far behind. In the promo pictures for their new album, it’s only Urie. In the “Miss Jackson” video, it’s only Urie. One look at the band’s Instagram account and it’s mostly Urie. Is Panic! going through another member change?

Upon further investigation, fans found Smith at the end of the video, in a group of what were thought to be extras. He has a brief on-camera appearance along with Dallon Weekes–a recent addition to the band after losing two original members to creative differences. And while this didn’t ease some of the die-hard fans worries, yesterday we heard from the man himself.

In an

open letter

posted to the band’s website, Smith admits to battling addiction for the past four and a half years. He writes that it started with smoking weed and drinking a little too much alcohol to get to a place emotionally and mentally where he felt normal. While on tour, he says his depression and anxiety “became much worse, and I used alcohol to attempt to numb it." 

After a traumatic health issue arose in a loved one roughly two years ago, Smith found himself taking Vicodin and Xanax daily. He believed he could self-medicate his way into being happy. He thought if he felt happy and outgoing, everyone else must see the same emotions and wouldn’t realize he was simply chasing a high to run away from what was causing his depression.  Smith writes that he quickly "became a serious addict,” and it only got worse when touring with Panic! stopped.

“Wake up: Take a pill to have the energy to get out of bed. Leaving the house: Make sure I have enough pills to last till I get back. I had back up pills in my car, my backpack, all over the place in case something happened to the ones I had on me,” Spencer writes. “I couldn’t go more than 8 hours without feeling painkiller withdrawals. I was taking a dangerous amount of pills while drinking to chase that high, and just like with any other substance, the higher the high is, the lower the low is. What started out as a way for me to numb anxiety and depression had become the major cause of it.”

Last fall, Smith entered treatment with the support of friends and family and he’s currently sober. He writes that his goal is to “relate to anyone who has experienced addiction personally or with a loved one.” His honesty, sincerity, and transparency has already had an impact on his fans who have shown an outpouring of love via the band’s social media channels. 

“…Anxiety, depression, and addiction are not picky. They plague people of all ages from all walks of life. But, you can recover!! So, please seek help if you’re suffering personally,” Smith urges. “It gets better one day at a time.”

Even though he doesn’t owe anyone this letter, he’s willing to share his powerful story to help make a difference. It’s something we greatly admire. Thank you, Spencer. We’ll see you on tour.

You can read Spencer Smith’s full letter

here

. Panic! at the Disco’s new album, “Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!” releases 

October 8th

 worldwide.

Boston Marathon’s Aftermath

By Katherine Devorak [GUEST POST]

My sister stretched her pudgy little fingers against my cheek. We both snuggled in my big girl bed counting the minutes until Dad came to tell us it was “really” bedtime. As a six year old, I was not always happy to have an adorable redheaded attention-monopolizing two year-old sister. But at twenty-five, I have come to think of her as the dearest thing to me on this green earth.

My sister lives in Boston. Moments before she called me today, I stood waiting for the door to my workplace to open and I prayed that God would teach me how to live in thankfulness. With a lot of very stressful and seemingly important ongoing events in my life, I had reasons to be unhappy.  That is why I prayed that God would help me to live in thankfulness. I didn’t think I could do it on my own.

“I’m okay,” my sister said to me over the phone. And then she told me what happened. An explosion just outside of the hotel in Copley Square erupted as the first wave of the Boston Marathon runners crossed the line. The blast instantly killed three people, wounding more than one hundred, and within seconds changing the fate of families and friends across America.

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My sister lives about a mile and a half from Copley Square, the scene of the explosion. Her college campus is home to a section of the course of the marathon. Overcome with timely errands, she did not go to the marathon today, thereby very possibly saving her life.

It may have happened to you before today–the realization that we have so much to be grateful for–but for me, it sunk in hard today. It pressed down on my heart like a weight, causing me to cry on both trains I take home from work.

In the few hours on the train home from work, I continued to hear from loved ones who live in Boston.  They were all grief-stricken, but able to hold the phone and speak clearly enough to tell me they were all right. I cannot say the same for the friends of my fellow coworkers, family, and neighbors. I have friends who still have not heard from their loved ones. They are uncertain, still, if they are one of the runners who lost a limb or were wounded in another way.

We were all wounded in one way. Though our hearts are stunned with just a sliver of grief in comparison with others who lost their loved ones, we hurt for those who are hurting.

When things like this happen, I told my mom, “it seems like senseless and pointless grief.” And it does. There exists no discernible reason for what happened today in Boston. What does exist is a call to pray for the loss and suffering of every family and friend who lost a loved one today, or heard the news of their injury.

Though it seems like such a small offering in an ocean of suffering, join me today in lifting up in prayer those who have lost much today. The verse that God has been giving me lately is, “do not mourn like those who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). For the Christian, this is key.

Today, God reminded me through a horrible, senseless, catastrophic event that I have so much to be grateful for every day.

It is my prayer that we who were not directly affected would be of use to those who were. May we make ours a shoulder to cry on, and our hands folded ever fixedly in prayer for comfort, hope, and in God’s good time, healing. 

Katherine is my dear friend and college roommate. She is a freelance journalist who has been published in World-New York Online Magazine and national Australian and Papua New Guinean magazines and newspapers.

Leading Ladies: Katie McGrath

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Whether they’re stars on the rise, or everyday women worth emulating, these are ladies we admire and women to keep on your radar.

Next to Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence, Irish actress Katie McGrath is my ultimate girl crush. Not only do I think she’s stunningly gorgeous, but she’s a self-proclaimed “geek” and treats her fans extremely well. She’s more than willing to stop for photos and autographs when asked and will even mail you autographs if you write to her fan mail address (if you’re good to your fans, you’re a star in my book).

Known for her role as the villainous Morgana on BBC One’s “Merlin,” Katie McGrath began her acting career with no training. She got her start working as a wardrobe assistant on Showtime’s “The Tudors.” After being told she should act, she was offered a small part in the series and a few months later, landed the iconic role of the wicked enchantress. “Merlin” has since ended, completing its intended five season run, but during the show’s reign, she also starred in the romantic comedy “A Princess for Christmas.” It’s pretty much the life I dreamed up for myself—a girl from New York heads to a castle in England only to fall in love and marry a charming royal heir? Yes, please!

Click after the jump to find out why you should keep your eye on Katie!

Why we admire her: Katie isn’t afraid to be herself. Whether she’s excited to hop in the Batmobile at San Diego Comic-Con or expressing her love for “Firefly” actor Nathan Fillion, she’s just like us—geeking out over nerdy obsessions and crushing on attractive, talented actors. Hey Katie, looking for some new BFFs?

Why you should keep your eye on her: Katie starred in Madonna’s Oscar nominated “W.E.” and can most recently be seen on the TV show “Labrynth” with “Harry Potter” actor Tom Felton. Set to hit NBC this year, she will star alongside fellow “Tudors” alum and close friend Jonathan Rhys Meyers in “Dracula.” Katie will be playing the flirtatious Lucy Westenra. If you thought the vampire craze was over, you thought wrong. We have high hopes for this series!

Where we’d like to see her next: We’d love to see Katie take on a big franchise—perhaps a YA series adaptation? Maybe there’s room for her in the next “Hunger Games” movie? Or possibly a role in the upcoming “Mortal Instruments” franchise? Not only do we know Katie has the talent for a popular series, but she has the grace and personality to carry the fame with ease. We’re looking forward to seeing more of her in 2013!

Are you a fan of Katie? Tell us why on twitter!

3 Things 'Warm Bodies' Taught Me

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I went to see “Warm Bodies” because I’m a sucker for romance movies and most things in the supernatural or horror realm. I expected to spend half the time swooning over the ever-adorable Nicholas Hoult (which I did). But I left “Warm Bodies” reflecting on my life. The movie is smart—like really smart for a movie filled with characters who can’t really use their brains.

The film follows a zombie named R who just wants to connect to someone—anyone. After saving Julie from being attacked by his flesh-eating herd, they realize there’s a connection between them that just might save their lifeless world. Click after the cut to read three things “Warm Bodies” taught me.

1. Don’t Judge A Zombie By His Bite

If Julie killed R the moment she saw him, she wouldn’t know he was different from the other zombies. She wouldn’t know he felt a little guilty about eating human flesh. She wouldn’t know the both of them might have a chance at reviving their undead world. It always sounds cliché, but it wouldn’t be so cliché if everyone knew how to follow this advice. Every human being is fighting a hard battle. You may not see it and they may be doing something really annoying or frustrating at the moment, but they’re someone’s daughter or friend or brother or mother. Maybe they’re just really tired and don’t realize that they’re jamming their elbow into your chest while you’re on your crowded 8:00 a.m. subway commute. They’re also a human being. We’re on the same team. Cut them a little slack.

2. Humans Need Connection

Julie jump-starts R’s heart when he spots her and feels an instant connection. I haven’t read the book, but the movie makes it seem like love at first sight. After spending time with him, which of course turns into good old-fashioned teen romance, R becomes more and more human. He’s able to speak more words, move more freely and can even pass for human with a little TLC in the form of make-up. I heard about online dating companies bringing their websites to your phone via mobile apps. You now have the ability to pull up a map on the app and pins will drop where other users are in your vicinity. In about 10 minutes, you could be on your next date. Do we really need the device that connects humans the least to help us obtain a human connection? I’m no expert and I certainly don’t have all the answers, but something about this is a little scary in a where-does-it-end? way.

3. Get Off Your Cell Phone!

It’s hard to connect to anything or anybody when you’re dead—or rather, undead. R reminisces on a time before the virus outbreak when humans roamed the earth freely and human connectivity was easy. The movie then shows a flashback to the airport where every single person is looking down at their cell phone. Is that what we look like today? How awful. I’ve started to notice that texting or playing a game on your phone when you’re out to eat with friends and family is the new norm. It used to be something you did before you were scolded and told to put the phone away. But now it’s pretty much accepted. I even find myself doing it when my friends are all on their phones. Let’s all try something new—stay off your phone while spending quality time with friends or family. That game will always be there. That text most likely doesn’t need an immediate answer. You can always make a return phone call in an hour. “Wherever you are, be all there.” Don’t get me wrong, I really love my cell phone its conveniences, but we have to draw the line somewhere.

I hope this sparks conversation and reflection in your own life like “Warm Bodies” did in mine.

Also, a little plug for the movie: it’s in theaters now!

Happy Valentine's Day: Express Your Love With A GIF!

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In our internet crazed generation, nothing expresses our feelings better than a good GIF (whether or not you pronounce that with a hard or soft ‘g’). Insanely in love with your girlfriend? Overwhelmed by how much you appreciate your best friend? Wishing you could send kisses to your husband? There’s a GIF for that. And lucky for you, we’ve compiled some of our favorites that just wanna help you send some love to that special someone. Enjoy them after the cut!

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Justin Timberlake Reclaims His King of Pop Crown (Grammy's 2013)

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I’ve been a fan of Justin Timberlake since I was seven years old. I’m now 23 and he hasn’t lost any of his ability to charm and woo me into a puddle of mush.I don’t think I can ever watch him perform without a huge cheesy grin on my face. I look like a three-year-old who just met Mickey Mouse for the first time.

Well, this girl felt like she was surprised with a trip to Disney World over the weekend when the King of Pop reclaimed the crown and hit the Grammy’s stage on Sunday night. He rocked the audience with his newest single “Suit & Tie” (sharing the stage with Jay-Z, of course) and kept us entertained with “Little Pusher Love Girl”–which made it’s debut at DirecTV’s Super Bowl party. After his performance, his Target commercial aired and the superstore’s website made his new album, “The 20/20 Experience,” available for pre-order (yes, I’ve already reserved my copy!). The album will be released on March 19th.

Fallon Prinzivalli’s (@iamqueenfal) back-up plan is to be Kellan Lutz’s trophy wife.

Emma Watson Defends Kristen Stewart In Vanity Fair Italia

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Whether you’re a “Twilight” fan or not, you’ve probably heard about the affair that rocked Twihard’s worlds and caused a massive bump in Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart’s relationship. Last year, Stewart was photographed acting a little too friendly with married “Snow White and the Huntsman” director Rupert Sanders. All we have to say regarding this is: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” (John 8:7, KJV)

In the February 2013 issue of Vanity Fair Italia (translation provided here), Emma Watson stood up for Stewart saying, “Those who criticized her are the same people that think that being rich and famous is like being covered in some kind of magic powder that makes life perfect: Nothing can go wrong in your wonderful world. For these people, Kristen deserves all the bad things that have been thrown at her because she had an amazing life and she ruined it.”

Watson continues, “I don’t know how to explain it, but it sure isn’t perfect. I thought that the media picked on her in a very horrible way. Kristen is human, just like everybody else, and she’s so young. Everyone makes mistakes, everyone. It’s not fair to consider them matters of public interest. On one hand, I can understand why it happened: people felt really involved in her relationship with Robert Pattinson. But it’s also true that they both have done everything in their power to keep their relationship as far from the public eye as possible.”

Fallon Prinzivalli’s (@iamqueenfal) back-up plan is to be Kellan Lutz’s trophy wife.