the wife of harlotry (me)

I left Him.

He treated me well and loved me purely and gave me an abundance of life. He kissed my face and whispered sweet everythings into my stubborn ears. There was nothing He wouldn’t sacrifice for the sake of my soul.

Yet, I still left Him.

He loved me so well, and it made the frayed strings of my heart that struggle to know consistency uncomfortable. He gave grace where I deserved none, and I felt unworthy. He came close, and my feet quickly backed away. I tried to warn Him. “My hands are dirty, my heart impure. You have brought me out of the miry clay, but its familiarity is begging that I lay back down in it.” Still, He came closer. And closer. And closer. So, like the faithless lover that I am, I ran.

You see, I am the harlot that is spoken of in Hosea. I am the cheating wife of a good Man that has always provided well for me. I am the wanderer in the desert, seeking any kind of relief for my restless heart. Don’t give me steadfast, because my heart is anything but. Give me temporary. Give me fleeting. Give this unfaithful woman a drink of your confusion, for she cannot tell the difference between that and what she really needs.

Many arms opened wide for me. Different lovers waited on the street corner, and I approached them with a heart hungry for the love that I left. Their promises were empty, but so was I. A match made in heaven, it would seem. I gave everything I was away to the things of this world. My affections belonged to a boy that had no idea what to do with them. My hope rested in the strength I had convinced myself I actually had. My home was found in my wandering, which, really, was no home at all. None of it was real. None of it satisfied. Whoring myself out to the world and its idols became my twisted version of love, and I became the victim of delusion.

And then He came back for me.

The sight of Him coming towards my corner brought tears to my eyes. He approached the one who had a deadly grip on my heart with fire in His eyes, bloodied hands, and a crown of thorns upon His head. “Her,” He gasped, while pointing at me. “Whatever the cost. Her.” I shrunk back, all too aware of the tattered clothing on my back and the dirt caked onto my unfaithful feet. How does He still not understand? Doesn’t He see that I am prone to wander? That I do not know how to love or be loved? That I left? Why did He come back for His wife of harlotry?

As if on cue, my beloved spoke. “Because, are you listening? There is nothing, nothing, that can separate you from My love. You may not be faithful, but I am. You may not love well, but I do. You may feel unworthy, but I hold victory over that lie. Darling, can you hear me? You are spoken for. You are Mine. You do not have to be a slave to false gods any longer. By the grace found in this blood that drips from My body, you can be a bride that stays and loves and walks in truth. I have paid the highest price for you. Come home. Please, my dear. Come home to Me.”

I am the wife of harlotry. I am prone to wander. I am unfaithful and inconsistent. But, more than all of those things, I am His. When I run, He will come after me. Every time. When I attempt to sell my soul to the things of this world, He will come running, reminding me that He has already paid the highest price. And, undeservedly, there is grace in my wandering.

Wives of harlotry, we are free to love and be loved. Wives of harlotry, we are slaves no longer. Shake off the shackles from your feet. It’s time to come home.

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take it back now, y’all.

But, they’ll tell you not to. They’ll say, “The past is in the past. Leave it there. Forget about it and move on.” They’ll make you believe those things that happened have no place in your heart, anymore.

Don’t believe them. Baby, do not believe them.

I’ve been in a season of trying to forget; trying to forget all of those memories, all of the pain, and even some of the beauty that gently weaved itself throughout my life. My mindset was “press on”, and I was under the impression that that phrase was synonymous with “just forget any of it ever happened.” I drank in the bittersweet happenings of here & now to help myself forget. I dreamed far into the future after slapping on some blinders to keep my eyes from wandering. I packed up the lessons that I learned and let the box that claimed them gather dust in a metaphorical attic. With great effort, I became a ghost of the present; floating around, empty of everything that used to give me life.

It’s like being a shell of a human, I recently thought to myself. I’m here, but barely. I’ve nothing to build off of, nothing to refer to, nothing to give me hope in present and future sufferings. How am I supposed to take steps forward when I’m always being told to leave the things that brought me here behind?

I see the validity in pressing on towards the prize, really. I do. But not to the point that I forget every precious moment that brought me to the place I’m at currently. I can’t be a ghost, not when there’s so much life to be had. And neither can you.

“Remember the former things of old,” He says. Remember those things that hurt you. Remember the moments that you rose and the moments that you fell. Remember the sweetness of things long gone. Remember him. Remember her. Remember it all. Because, listen closely: our past still has things to teach us, and we are so not done learning.

“I feel like I’m dishonoring the Lord by dwelling on this,” I once told a dear friend. “He left months ago, but, oh my word, it still hurts. I don’t know how to stop thinking about it. I don’t know how to forget.” And that was the summary of my thoughts and burdens for about four months after the boy that used to love me left. For four months, my heart ached and my mind was weighed down with memories that I couldn’t figure out how to let go of.  For four months, I thought God was disappointed in my lack of ability to release the strong grip I had on my past. In fact, I lived in fear of what He would do if I continued to think about something that was clearly over ages ago. You have created an idol, Madi girl. You have created a giant, heart-wrenching idol out of your weakness. And the only way to destroy it is to make yourself forget.

Maybe I did create an idol; perhaps I did dwell on the breaking of my heart in such a way that caused a stone statue to be carved and placed smack dab in the middle of my life. But, forgetting wasn’t the way to bring it crumbling to the ground. Remembering, alone, is not an idol.

The lessons I learned from the relationship that wasn’t ever going to last forever were soaked in heartache and beauty, and I am still learning so much from them, eight months later. “The past is in the past” is true, but that doesn’t mean we disregard the relevancy of the experiences. If you’re reading this, I urge you to remember. Remember it all. If the Lord didn’t want us to at least loosely hold on to things past, He would not have given us such an incredible ability to remember. And, disappointment? Disappointment is a lie. Hear that. Don’t ever allow the enemy to convince you that looking back will drive a wedge between you and the heart of the Lord in a way that will make Him disappointed in you. You are His beloved. No height nor depth nor memory will stop His love from reaching you in the sweetest of ways.

Okay, so that was a lot of word vomit, but when is it not? Don’t obsess, and don’t dwell unhealthily. Just let yourself remember and let yourself learn.

Take it back now, y’all. Really. Do it. Do it. Do it.

Peace out, girl scouts.

psalm 139:13-15

Click.

“Wait, put your arm back where you had it. Yeah, just like that. Hold that pose.”

Click. Click.

“You are so beautiful. Holy smokes. Soft smile for me.”

Click.

And, she is. My little sister is gorgeous. Breathtaking. And she is growing up, alarmingly fast. I took some senior pictures for her a few days ago, and they turned out just as I expected them to: beautiful. So beautiful. It’s really all I’ve thought about for the past few days. It’s what crosses my mind when I sit in front of the mirror, examining each one of my characteristics, blemishes, and flaws.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” I’d whisper while tearing up. As I sat there, staring at my reflection, I was all too aware that I was the beholder. And I hated that, if the saying were true, I was only beautiful if I thought so. (And, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t.) Which also meant I’m only beautiful if the people looking at me think so. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” As if that’s something we get to decide; something that depends on preferences.

I don’t want to seem like I am terribly focused on my appearance, or fishing for compliments from the strangers who just may happen upon these raw words I write in the middle of the night. I just want to talk about how difficult it can be, being a young woman who is taught to love herself while simultaneously given reasons why she shouldn’t; being a lady in a world where it is “funny” to point out and shame people for certain physical aspects they have no control over; being a girl, surrounded by man-made standards for beauty that she honestly will never be able to meet.

Yesterday, after I had finished putting on my make up and doing my hair for some family pictures, I watched a tear sneak down my face, cringed at the acne that just won’t quit, sighed at the gaps in my teeth, and observed the scars that refuse to be masked by foundation. Beside me, my sister was also getting ready. I watched her skillfully put on her eyeliner, curl her lashes, and add that shade of lipstick I can never pull off. I noticed the flawless way her sweater draped over her torso, revealing not one single bit of pudge. Even the pieces of hair that were out of place seemed to look amazing on her. I am simply beautiful in other ways, I thought to myself after a long moment of self-pity. I am not beautiful like my sister or any of my friends, but I am kind. I love, deeply. I am learning to be selfless. And the Lord is continuing to recreate my heart. This will have to be enough for me. This is where my beauty will have to be found.

Listen: I don’t want to diminish the truth in that. Beauty does reside in the inmost pieces of our being, the ones that are written along the walls of our veins and in the quiet chaos of our souls. That is true. But the Lord did not merely create what the naked eye cannot see. When He decided upon the color of my skin and the shape of my nose and where each tooth would be placed, He did so with love and wisdom. I do not think that after I was formed, Abba Father disliked His choices. I don’t think that every time I break out, He wishes He had created me differently. I don’t think that my bad hair days even phase Him. Because, little ol’ me? I was made in the image of the One who tells the sun to shine. And with every heartbeat, purpose is also pumped throughout my body. His words are being stitched into every fiber, every thought. The characteristics of Christ are making a home in me. So, no. I am not beautiful like my sister. I wasn’t ever supposed to be. I am beautiful like me. And every single day, the Lord is teaching me to be beautiful like Him.

And I hope you can take that with you. I hope that you can read this, pull out that bright red lipstick, and use it to write “good” on your mirror. I hope that comparison to anyone other than Christ becomes silly to you. And, I hope that everything you’re made up of knows beauty is not actually in the eye of the beholder, but woven into every inch of you.

we are many things, but we are not too much.

I allowed the water from the shower head to stream down my face, masking the tears, just like a scene from a movie. The steam created a sort of cloud around my already foggy mind, and I welcomed it. Deep breath in, deep breath out.

Let yourself feel, I thought to myself. You are allowed to feel this.

But, I didn’t feel like I was allowed to. I rarely ever do.

I shut off the water and closed my eyes, willing myself to stop crying. But, I couldn’t. I couldn’t stop feeling, and it hurt.

I was ashamed of the weeping I couldn’t hold back. I was angry at my sensitivity. I was burdened by the way I feel things so deeply. I was embarrassed of my heart’s need to be vulnerable and open and transparent. But, these are all aspects of myself that I once cherished. I used to cradle every thought and feeling in my palms and examine them. Love them. Let them be. Somewhere along the way, though, there was a shift. A great, big, continental shift. I began to see a fear of transparency in peoples’ eyes, and then I watched those same people leave. So, I stopped taking pride in these characteristics and started shoving them in my pockets. “Shh, it’s okay. I just can’t let anyone see you right now.” I’ve never been very good at hide-and-seek, though. I don’t think I was ever supposed to be.

“Show us who you are!” the world screams. “Show us all of your pieces and always choose to be authentic. But, be warned: the moment things get real and raw? That’s the moment we’re no longer interested in seeing you.”

What a slap in the face to those of us that wear our hearts on our sleeves. Be real, but not too real. Be honest, but not too honest. Be vulnerable, but not so vulnerable that it freaks someone out. I am angry as I type this, because there is no kindness in telling a person to hide. Can you hear me, world? Your comfort is not more important than authenticity.

(But we shape the way we communicate around its comfort, anyways. Why do we do this? Aren’t we tired of hiding?)

I have encountered people in the past year that have managed to take hold of everything I knew that I was and twist it into a lie so painful, it often hurt to breathe. “You are too much,” they’d whisper as they slowly backed away, hands up and palms facing me, as if they were escaping something terrible.

But, I am not something terrible. My feelings and the way my heart begs to be an open book, read and seen by everyone, is a book worth reading. There are cracks and scars and pieces of grace stitched within its walls, each with their own stories. And man, do I love a good story.

To the ones who are too scared to stay: stop being afraid of vulnerability. Stop making people think that their tears and emotions and thoughts need to be buried deep within them; that they’re not worth seeing. Let people feel. Let yourself feel. Can you hear me? Am I speaking loud enough? Let people be everything that they are. The moment that you convince someone that they are “too much” is the moment you strip away their freedom to just be. People are never too much. I am not too much. We are many things, but we are not too much.

To the ones that feel everything so deeply: you do not need permission to be real and raw and all of the things that your heart needs to be. You just need to be brave. You just need to show up for people and love the hell out of ’em. And you need to show up for yourself. Do that for me, will you? Show up for yourself.

the prodigal people

As I sat on top of a quickly-packed suitcase, I caught myself wishing that running away were as simple as the old TV shows made it out to be. If they were, all I’d need is a long stick, a checkered handkerchief, and access to the nearest train. And, just in case, a special talent for whenever the circus picked me up. But, life is not a cartoon and I am not a seven year old child running away from well-deserved discipline. I am an adult, living on my own and working to put bread on the table.

Who, or what, was I running from, then?

You know those moments when fear tries to talk you out of a really good thing? Like, a dream job interview? Or an adventure that will, more than likely, push you to your limits? Or a date with that fella over there with the hella good hair? Fear always tries to drown out the excitement and convince us that we aren’t brave enough for radical things. And, that’s what happened. I ran away from something magnificent for the simple fact that I was scared out of my mind. The Lord promised me a new season of hope, so, naturally, I bolted.

The thing about running away from Love, though: it doesn’t leave you with many options. Encountering Jesus is like getting hit by an eighteen-wheeler; you cannot leave the same as you were before the moment of collision. So, when I ran, there was nowhere for me to go. I had collided with the mercy seat ten months before, and that encounter completely obliterated any other path I could have ever taken. I was trying to stray from a road that had “this is where you belong” written in the tar, so the grassy edges were the farthest away I could get.

Come to find out, fear has many victims whose steps have already been established. As I sat there, looking like a confused hitchhiker and aimlessly moving gravel around with my feet, I began to notice how many others were sitting alongside that road we call “home.” Suitcases strewn about, teary-eyes, and whispers of shame. We were all running and we were all under the influence of the ball and chain that is uncertainty. Any confidence we once had in Christ was replaced with the guilt of leaving. There was a collective “I won’t be welcomed back” among us runaways, and, like a vicious cycle, it kept us in a rut of complacency.

But, that was a load of bologna. We would be welcomed back. “This is where you belong” never shifted from the road to the edge where we sat. It remained there because it never stopped being true. That path where we’d find ourselves in the arms of Jesus would always be our home, whether we walked away from it or not.

And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” // Luke 15:20-24

Our return home is celebrated and cherished and cause for the happiest of tears. Hear this. Know this. Write it upon your heart. Commit it to memory. Us runaways, the ones who have no idea what to do or where to go and stepped away from Love because of it? We are the prodigal people. When we finally decide we’ve got the guts to pick up our bags, drag them back onto the tar, and repent for ever walking away, we will not be met with a slap on the wrist. There is no condemnation waiting for us, but the love of a Father who just had a child return to Him. Grace-laced whispers of forgiveness will flood the atmosphere. Can you hear it? The Lord will remind us, ever-so-gently, that He is always calling us higher. This road leads to exciting, challenging, life-altering places, and we will never enter into those seasons when we’re sitting on the grassy bits.

So, I’m putting my foot down. Both of them, actually. Because it’s time to get off that edge of complacency. It’s time to stop partnering with the lies of doubt. Fear was never supposed to be my portion, nor yours. Let’s get brave, then. Radically brave. So brave, we can step into the Father’s arms and say, “I left because I got scared. But, I’m home now. And I’m so sorry. Will you forgive me? Will you empty me of anything that’s not of You & give me a new portion of courage and grace, though I’ve done nothing to deserve it?”

We are the prodigal people, but we don’t need to keep owning that title. Unpack those suitcases, baby. We can be a people that never leaves home, again.

into the mystery

Lights dimmed, worship band playing across the room. Fellow college students, scattered out, singing and seeking the Lord. (That’s the scene.) Back of the church. Sitting, cross-legged, on the floor. Probably making one of those faces that says I’m not budging. (That’s me.)

“No. I won’t do it. I have a right to this.”

“That sense of entitlement is not of Me.”

“I don’t care. I want to keep holding on.”

“You’re not letting yourself be led by the Spirit.”

“Maybe not, but I still don’t care. I’m not giving anything up.”

“I’m not asking you to give it up to be a mean Father. I’m asking you to let go, because if you don’t, it’s going to get heavier. Your heart is going to look less and less like Mine. You will be ministering to others out of bitterness and unforgiveness. Beloved, you pour out whatever you hold onto. Is it worth it? Do you not want more of Me? I came to set the captives free, but you are choosing to stay in chains.”

It wasn’t, by the way. Worth it. My bitterness wasn’t worth holding onto. And, hey. To each their own. Feel free to replace “bitterness” with your own poison, because the fact remains: it’s not worth it. It will hurt to let go of, but not as much as it will to hold onto.

God has been trying to orchestrate & walk into a new season with me, but once we reached the sign that read “NOW LEAVING FAMILIARITY,” I stopped right in my tracks and said no. I’m not going anywhere. I essentially told Him that the toxic things I couldn’t bring myself to let go of were more important to me than growth.That is what we do every time we give our hearts permission to harbor anything that doesn’t breathe life.

We shouldn’t ever let our hands hold on, so tightly, to the chains Christ died to free us from. The longer we grasp them, the harder it is to let go. Our fingers become stiff, because we allowed ourselves to be stagnant. And in this transforming journey of relationship with the Lord, we have to keep moving forward. Like Paul said, “I press on toward the goal.” But that means actually moving. Taking a step. Letting go of the things that are making you stand still.

That evening the above conversation took place? That was when I finally pried my fingers open. Down the chains fell, right where they’ve always belonged: at the foot of the cross. In that moment, I think I could have flown. “I’m free. I’m free. O, my God, I am finally free.” Now leaving familiarity, & entering something brand new.

I took His hand and stepped across the line that separated the two seasons.

“What now?”

“You & I? We’re going places. New places. Don’t forget what we’re leaving, but don’t hold onto it so tightly that you can’t embrace the surprises of moving forward. Ready? Here we go, head first, into the mystery.”

wide awake at 2:02am

“Well, am I?” Patiently asked, of course. Always patient. Always kind. Always gentle.

I haven’t had an answer to this steadfast question presented before me, laid open and bare like the mess of a heart I own. I just tucked it away in the furthest reaches of my mind, promising to come back to it later. Much later.

Everywhere. They are everywhere. Cute and braggy and in-your-face. From church to Facebook to Twitter to InstaGram, I can’t seem to escape them. In fact, there just seems to be more and more as the days go by. Seriously, where did they all come from?

I know, you’re probably sitting on the edge of your seat, waiting for me to explain who I’m talking about. And there’s really no way for me to do so without seeming cynical or bitter, but, hey, maybe that’s exactly what I am. I’m not in the business of picking a mask over transparency, so, here we are. The readers in suspense (or not; it doesn’t matter) and the writer (using that term loosely) taking entirely too much time to explain that she’s speaking about couples. Bold, just in case you zoned out and wanted to easily find where I finally offered up some clarification.

But, yes. Couples. Whether they be dating, engaged, or married, they seem to be popping up everywhere. And, as if that weren’t bad enough, they’re adorable. Romantic gestures, left & right. Dates that walked right out of Pinterest and inevitably made it into my newsfeed. Pictures of the ring accompanied by a caption full of mush and clever hashtags for the future wedding. All there for my eyes to feast upon.

Let me just say this: I know that singleness isn’t a disease. Really, I do. It’s actually been this incredible journey of learning how to wait upon the Lord and dive into deeper intimacy with Him. It’s been a season of challenges and discipline and the renewing of my mind. It has truly been so good. Why, then, does my heart feel this pang of emptiness each time another engagement is announced? Why, then, does the whisper, “When will it be my turn?” constantly make itself heard within my mind? If I know that being single has been so good for me, why does it hurt?

This is not one of those, “Dance with God and He will let the right man cut in,” posts. (I literally cringed as I typed that out.) This isn’t a post about a billion different “Relationship Goals” I hope to achieve with a man someday. And, for the love of everything good and true, this is NOT one of those “#DearFutureHusband” posts. I’m not here to encourage the ideas and actions that have caused us to create an idol out of romance, so stop reading if that’s what you were hoping for. I’m not here to glorify relationships, nor am I here to diss them.

I’m simply here to answer a question.

But, before I do, can I just paint a picture for you? For months, I have been stomping around with this metaphorical backpack that’s way too heavy and thrown off my balance. It’s been stuffed to the brim with societal pressures, saying that I will not be whole without a man to hug and kiss. Which, I know is a lie, but when everyone and everything around you is buying into that lie, it suddenly becomes very difficult to willingly dwell on the truth. For every I am content in my singleness, there seems to be five look how adorable my relationship is. I mean, I don’t even know if the Lord intends for me to marry. Maybe He doesn’t. Maybe He does. Regardless, I don’t want to continually dwell on it. That’s not healthy. (Did you hear that? Constantly dwelling on the idea of dating and/or marrying is the equivalent to creating an idol out of it, and that is not healthy nor glorifying to the Lord.)  So, what am I supposed to do? I can’t just become a hermit to avoid the bombardment of relationships that are out there.

I mean, I’ve thought about it, but it was an idea born of desperation. So, probably not my best. Probably.

Back to the point.

The enemy has been feeding this lie into my heart that says I will never be fully satisfied until a man wants to be with me. I mean, it’s an easy one to buy into. But, what I’ve failed to realize until now, is that this is a lie that’s used to distract us from the truth of Christ’s sufficiency. Engagements hurt my heart because I have decided to march with the masses that are crying out, “The love of another human will satisfy your heart!” rather than partner with the definitive truth of, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

This isn’t a matter of figuring out whether or not a relationship will make me whole. This is about a question. The question. The one He is always patiently asking me. “Am I enough for you? Well, beloved, am I?”

I want to say yes, but the current state of my heart says otherwise. And, that’s okay. Because the Lord is patient and kind and relentless in His pursuit of my whole heart. Maybe I can’t, with absolute certainty, claim that Christ is truly sufficient for me. But, that doesn’t make it any less true.

If you related with anything I’ve written about in this post, I encourage you to join with me in prayer. Together, we’ll pray for hearts that are willing to allow the Father to complete the work He’s started in us. Let’s pray, “Lord, right now, I don’t think I believe You’re enough for me. But, I want to. I want that to be the truth that flows through my veins. Please help me. It’s only by Your strength that I’ll be able to overcome the enemy’s lies that say another person can make me whole. Your love is the only thing that truly satisfies. Jesus, please help me with my unbelief.”