Grace

Grace

Every semester, crazy pastors come to OSU. Actually, I don’t know whether they are legitimate pastors or pyschos on a mission, but either way, they take over library lawn and yell at people. Loudly, I might add.

Now, it takes a lot to make me angry. I’m a pretty even-tempered person, and few things bug me. But these people make me FURIOUS. Why? Because they abuse Jesus for their own agenda. They condemn. They hate. They spite. And worst of all? They justify their corrupt, hateful words through Jesus.

Friends, I don’t worship that Jesus. I don’t worship the Jesus who calls people whores. I don’t worship the Jesus who hates people. And I certainly don’t worship a Jesus who sends His followers to hurl insults like the Pharisees.

I worship the real Jesus.

I worship a Jesus who loves people. All people. And by all people, I genuinely mean ALL people. I don’t care what race, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation you are, Jesus loves you.

I worship a Jesus who came not for the most religious but for the most broken. I worship a Jesus who came to heal the sick. I worship a Jesus who is, as the hit song by Casting Crowns says, a “friend of sinners.” (Mark 2:17)

My Jesus was best friends with tax collectors (who were basically Biblical bad guys), prostitutes and sinners. And what’s even more incredible? Jesus didn’t wait for them to be clean to love them. He didn’t wait for them to fix themselves. He just loved them as they were.

Broken. Flawed. Hurting. Helpless. Scared. Prideful. Guilty. Shamed.

And through every wrong choice, through every Sin, through every mistake, He loves us still.

But you see, Jesus loves us enough to not leave us the way we are. As humans, it’s in our DNA to make mistakes. To mess up. To be selfish. None of us is perfect.

When we fall, when we fail, when we falter – Jesus is there. Jesus is waiting with open arms to scoop us up and hold us close. Like any loving Father, He wants His children to do what is best for them.

Except Jesus takes love to a new level. There’s no righteous indignation. There’s no condemnation. There’s no shame.

There’s only grace and freedom and mercy and joy.

Jesus doesn’t say “I told you so.” He doesn’t say, “You should’ve listened.” He doesn’t say, “I was right and you were wrong.”

Jesus dusts you off, mends your aching heart and whispers softly,

Welcome home, my child. You are beloved. I made you. I will never leave you nor forsake you. I’m with you. I’m for you. I will carry you.

Jesus calls you by your name. He washes away your Sin and embraces you with love.

Romans 5:8 tells us “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

How amazing is Jesus? While we were still lying, while we were still stealing, while we were still lusting and arrogant and taking His name in vain, Jesus loved us enough to save us. Jesus, the only one without blemish, was willing to take our punishment EVEN IF we never loved him back.

That is the deepest love fathomable.

So listen, friends.

Jesus didn’t come to harm you but to help you. Jesus didn’t come to shame you but to love you. Jesus didn’t come to damn you but to free you.

Jesus gave us grace. All we have to do is believe it, accept it and live it. As much as some people try to deny it, His grace is enough.

Love Always,

Alli

**As a side note: Let me be clear, though, grace isn’t an excuse to Sin. Grace is freedom from Sin. (Read this great blog post called ‘Cheap Grace isn’t Grace’  because it rocks!) Because when you’ve been transformed by a Jesus who loves as deeply as He does, you want to do things pleasing to Him. But the thing is, we do good works not for our salvation but because of it.

** Silly Side note No. 2: Sorry for using the word whore. I actually HATE that word, but I chose it because, funny story, Preacher Bob called me a whore and I’m slightly salty about it. OK actually, he yelled it at my general direction and it seemed like it was at me, but I can’t be sure, so Preacher Bob may or may not have insinuated something about my character. But even if it wasn’t at me, no one should be called that so I left it in there. Plus also it’s 3 a.m. so ya know. #college

Beauty

Blog Pic

Hey, friends. Do you ever have those days where you feel like a cabbage patch kid in a sea of Barbies? I sure do.

Lately, I’ve been feeling insecure about myself and my appearance. I’ve been letting my lies crowd God’s truth. And I’ve been filling my head with poisonous, hateful words.

I wish I were skinnier.

I wish I were prettier.

I wish I were nicer and smarter and kinder and funnier and more talented.

I wish my teeth were whiter and my smile were brighter and my hair were longer.

I wish I didn’t look like a 12-year-old.

I wish I looked like the rest of the girls in my classes.

The list continues longer than I like to admit.

As girls, I think we have an inherent hazing ability. Because when I think about it, that’s what I’m doing. I’m hazing myself. I’m saying I’m not good enough. I’m saying God’s not enough.

How many destructive things do I do to perpetuate my negative self-image?

Confession. I’m an insta-stalker. I find myself constantly scrolling through people’s instagrams and comparing myself to them. I do it until I feel ugly and sick and worthless.

How twisted is that?

The fact that someone else is beautiful shouldn’t make me feel ugly. It should make me marvel at the wonders of God’s work and how He designed each of us so perfectly, wonderfully and uniquely.

Life isn’t a competition. Yet, I insist on making it one.

She’s prettier than me. She’s skinnier. She’s smarter. She has everything. She is perfect.

Listen to me, friends. She’s not you.

She will never be you.

There will always be someone you think is prettier or smarter or better.

But again.

She’s not you.

Have you ever gazed at the night sky and marveled at each dazzling star?

Have you ever admired dainty flecks of snowflakes as they dance from the sky?

Have you ever marveled at a sunset, noticing each perfect hue amidst a kaleidoscope of colors?

I hope so. Because each star, each snowflake, each sunset is hand-painted by God. And God paints them all differently. He never makes duplicates. And it would be impossible to compare them because they are all unique and precious.

God made us the same way. Just like no star, snowflake or sunset is the same, none of us are identical. And each of us were hand-crafted by the Maker of Heaven and Earth and Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. (OK the last one is kind of stretching but I mean if you’ve been, you understand.)

So we may think someone else is more beautiful. We may think someone else has a cooler life plan. But God doesn’t.

What if God designed us to look the way we look because He programmed our future spouse to find us attractive?

God’s pretty cool like that.

Maybe God designed us to look the way we do to make certain friends, to do certain things and to inspire certain people.

Maybe God created a special love story for us, and it depends on us looking the way we look and being who we are to find it.

And even if God doesn’t write us a love story, His plan for us will turn out even more beautiful than a Nicholas Sparks novel.

Whatever His plan, God made us with the same amount of love and care as everyone and everything in this world.

But, you know what?

Even though God calls us His masterpieces, beauty isn’t what makes us special.

To be honest, I think we give the word “pretty” too much value. Britt Nicole once said, “We get so worried about being pretty. Let’s be pretty kind. Pretty funny. Pretty smart. Pretty strong”

Britt gets it.

Why do we get so caught up on what we look like, when it doesn’t matter?

When I think about the people I love most this world, I don’t love them because they are pretty. Sure, I think my family and friends are beautiful, and I would argue with anyone who disagrees. But I don’t love them because they’re pretty.

I love people who love me well. I love people who are compassionate and selfless and kind. I love people who shine for Jesus. I love people who make everyone feel beautiful.

And that’s what counts.

Make your heart beautiful. Make your life beautiful. Make your character beautiful. Because, ultimately, Jesus doesn’t care about your outward appearance; He looks at your heart. (1 Samuel 16:9)

You are beautiful not because of anything someone says or doesn’t say to you. You’re beautiful because God says so.

I could say you are all beautiful, and I promise you I mean it with all of my heart. But that’s not why you should believe it. And honestly, you probably wouldn’t believe me.

Believe you’re beautiful because you are fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalms 139:14).

Believe you’re beautiful because one day, you’ll meet someone who will want to wake up next to you every day. Even if you don’t, believe you’re beautiful because you have friends, family and people who love you and care for you. And that’s beautiful. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Believe you’re beautiful most of all because God made you. And God only makes beautiful things.

Love Always,

Alli

It is finished.

With a disheveled crown of thorns and oozing wounds, the Savior of the world lay nailed to an old, rickety cross. Beaten. Abused. Mocked.

Blood ran red down the hill of Calvary, trickling through throngs of unbelievers and scoffers.

As insults and stones were hurled through the air, the Savior hung with excruciating pain.

As He surveyed the malicious crowd, He neither quit nor condemned.

He suffered. He prayed. He loved.

With labored breaths, He said

Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do

In the midst of torture, in the midst of torment, Jesus showed only grace and only mercy.

After days and hours of public humiliation, He peered at the crowd of skeptics and cynics.

They continued their jeering, filled with arrogant pride.

But Jesus, undaunted, mustered His dying breath, saying only

It is finished.

The Earth shook. Murmurs erupted. Time stood still.

When the finality of His death lingered through the crowd, they took His mangled body to a tomb, sealing it with a cumbersome, granite slab.

For three days, His body remained.

For three days, people wondered.

For three days, the story seemed finished.

But on the third day, the stone was gone.

And the story was only beginning.

That third day, Jesus conquered death, paving the way for us to spend eternity with Him, even though we will never deserve it.

And that’s why Easter is so powerful and so special. Because serving God isn’t about what we can do for Him, but it’s about everything He did for us.

While we were still sinners, Jesus died for us.

When He was bleeding, hanging and hurting, He was thinking about you and me.

He was tormented and tortured so we could be free.

His blood covers us. His blood rescues us. His blood redeems us.

His blood is stronger than addiction.

His blood is stronger than lies.

His blood is stronger than lust, greed, pride, evil and selfishness.

His blood is stronger than Sin.

What kind of crazy love it is that God would allow His perfect Son to take our place.

What kind of crazy love it is that God would give us grace and mercy when we deserve condemnation.

What kind of crazy love it is that all we have to do is call upon the name of the Lord and He heals us.

God is weird.

Even when we disobey God, even when we run away and ignore Him, even when we mess up, God waiting with open arms, ready to scoop you up and celebrate the return of His beloved.

If you were the only person on the planet, Jesus still would have died for you — even if you don’t believe in Him.

No matter what you do, His relentless love never stops pursuing you.

Because God is weird. And God is love. And the blood of Christ changed everything.

So it’s OK you aren’t perfect. Jesus loves you as you are, not as you ought to be. But He loves you so much that He doesn’t want you to stay the way you are. He wants to fix you and mend you and heal you. And He does.

There’s no stipulations, there’s only grace. You can’t earn it, and you can’t lose it. Just accept it. Surrender to it. Give everything you are to the One who fearfully and wonderfully made you.

We pray to a God who defeated death. We pray to a miracle-maker. We pray to a redeemer.

We pray to a father.

We pray to a God of second and third and 17 millionth chances.

And that is the most beautiful, incomprehensible thing on the planet.

So when I say Happy Easter, I mean it with all of my heart.

I am perfectly loved by the maker of Heaven and Earth. I am washed by His blood. I am healed by His wounds.

Oh, how He loves us.

Love Always,

Alli

You are loved.

It’s been a Monday. But you know what? When I am at my weakest point, that’s when God is at His strongest, and isn’t that so encouraging to know? (2 Corinthians 12:9)

So from one stressed out, overly-caffeinated, college kid, here’s a letter God put on my heart because I need someone to say it to me.

Dear friends,

Numbers do not define you.

Your GPA does not define you.

Your bank account does not define you.

Your weight does not define you.

The number of likes on your Instagram does not define you.

The number of boys who talk to you does not define you.

The number of friends you have does not define you.

This world does not define you.

Let me be honest. I don’t always believe that. And old habits die hard – especially when you’re as stubborn as I am.

But listen to me.

That voice in your head that says you’re a failure is lying.

You look in the mirror, and all you see is flaws. I know I do. I look at myself, and I see everything I’m not.

“I’m not pretty enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m not kind enough. I’m not good enough. I’m not talented enough. My eyebrows look like Hermione Granger (pre-puberty – we’re talking Movie 1 here people.) I’m not enough.”

The list goes on.

And it’s easy for me to feel like that.

But you know what’s truly beautiful?

Even though all I see is flaws, God sees His masterpiece. Why? Because I’m not all I say I’m not. I am all He says I am.

And God, the Creator and King of The Universe, says:

You are loved. (John 3:16, I mean really the whole Bible…)

You are fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalms 139:14)

Your body is a temple. (1 Corinthians 6:19)

You are His treasure. (Ephesians 2:10)

You are a princess. (1 Peter 2:9)

You are a child of God. (Galatians 3:26)

There are no exceptions. There is no disclaimer. There is no “but.” There is only grace.

When you haven’t slept in two days and you look like you survived the zombie apocalypse because the bags under your eyes have reached full-blown Gucci status – God thinks you are beautiful still.

When you run away from God and try to be Olivia Pope and handle everything by yourself – God says He’s still with you.

When you’re lost and alone and afraid and feel like you’re failing everything and everyone around you – God says He’s never going to leave you nor forsake you. He’s in it with you.

When you fail a test, when your face decides an acne invasion is in order, when you embarrass yourself, when you cry for no reason, when you fail and when you fall – God is still holding on to you, whispering “It’s OK. Give me your burdens. Give me your worries. I care about you. You are so special. You are so loved.”

It’s hard to listen for that comfort. It’s hard to be still and trust God. I know. Believe me, friend, I know.

But God, who knows the number of hairs on your head and the number of fears in your heart, is with you always. He never stops loving you. Never. Even when you mess up. And you can’t earn His love. He just loves you because He’s God and that’s who He is and what He does.

So stop comparing yourself to other people. Because God made you to be exactly who you are.

Who cares if some boy doesn’t like you? Boys do not define you. Jesus does.

Who cares if you didn’t do so hot on that test? Your grades do not define you. Jesus does.

Who cares if that girl/boy is prettier or smarter or has more than you? Life isn’t a competition. God made you to be YOU. And that is pretty awesome, OK?

So maybe I’m not Emma Watson. Maybe I’m not Olivia Pope. Maybe I’m just Alli.

And I am a HOT MESS 99.9 percent of the time. But you know what? God made me for a purpose. And I just have to be patient enough for Him to show me. And even though I can’t see my worth, Jesus tells me I’m worth His life. And Jesus is not a liar.

So you know what? It’s OK to have doubts about yourself sometimes. Because let’s be real. I am a sinner, and on my own, I would never be good enough for Jesus.

BUT.

The good news is that it’s not about me. It’s about Jesus. And His love and sacrifice saves us and redeems us and restores us and cleans us and makes us pure and clean.

So you know what?

Just being Alli is enough. You are enough. Please know that.

The same God that made mountains and sunsets and ice cream made YOU, OK?

And that is pretty stinking awesome.

Love Always,

Alli

Enjoy.

Hi, friends. It’s been forever since I’ve posted, but I’m hoping to improve that soon.

Life Church challenges us to pick one word to focus on this year, and I encourage everyone to try this. For me, my word is “enjoy.”

Instead of having a single Bible verse to explain my theme, I focused on a story in Luke 10:38-42, where Jesus visits Mary and Martha.

Martha is excited to host Jesus, and she spends all day striving to make everything perfect. Mary, on the other hand, laughs and chats with Jesus while her sister is busy cleaning and cooking.

Martha grows resentful and voices her concern to Jesus, but He explains that what Mary is doing is more important – focusing on the eternal.

It’s easy to criticize Martha in the story because Jesus, the Savior of the world, is chilling in her living room, and she’s too busy to spend time with Him.

Silly Martha, right? I mean, why on earth would you let something so temporary distract you from Jesus? Especially when He is right there in your house.

But.

I am Martha.

How many times do I allow myself to get so busy in the temporary things of this world that I forget what’s really important?

How many times do I skip my quiet time because I’m “too busy?” How many times do I treat prayer as another check on my to-do list instead of enjoying my time with The Lord?

The truth is…I am Martha in more ways than I like to admit. I am the Type A, OCD, classic perfectionist who loves being busy. I am task-oriented, and I am always thinking about what needs to be done instead of enjoying the process.

And sometimes, that’s OK. Being a Martha isn’t always a bad thing. But Jesus wants me to have the heart of Mary more than the actions of Martha.

Jesus doesn’t need my feeble, futile attempts to be perfect. Jesus wants me, my time and my heart exactly as it is. He doesn’t love me as I ought to be but rather as I am.

Broken. Scattered. Imperfect. Flawed.

So I don’t want to be empty this year, filling myself with meaningless accomplishments. Let my life not be defined by awards but by a sincere love of others. Let me not be so wrapped up in my own little world that I forget to worship the One who made me.

This year, I want to ENJOY.

And enjoying means having a positive attitude in all circumstances. It means loving people. It means experiencing life and understanding that each part of the process is beautiful.

This year, I want to be still and listen.

My mom told me once that God speaks in whispers, but we want Him to shout. And I think that explains why I become so easily frustrated.

I look for God in big things, but I never open my eyes to watch His work in the little, everyday aspects of life.
Sometimes, God does reveal Himself in huge ways. But most of the time, I think God gives us tiny clues that show He is Immanuel – God with us.

Maybe it’s a smile from a stranger. Maybe it’s encouragement from a friend. Maybe it’s the right song at the right time. Maybe it’s that voice in your head that whispers “it’s OK. You can do this.”

So enjoy. I want to deny the parts of myself that crave perfection and structure. Life is messy and busy and crazy and flawed, but that’s what makes it beautiful.

This year, I am on a journey to enjoy because I am happy. I am healthy. I am whole. I am loved. I am forgiven. I am made new. In my weakness, God is made stronger. And that is something to celebrate.

This year, I hope to fall in love with life. I hope to let the little things matter because they do. I hope to remember that success is quietly beautiful. Happiness isn’t some magical moment you achieve someday, it’s an attitude that you can hold in your heart at every moment.

Each day is another chance to be the person God created you to be. Each day is a gift, even when you want to return it.

Life is laughter with your best friends. Life is midnight pizza and messy rooms. Life is tears that show you’ve loved to the point where you can be broken. Life is an Oklahoma sunset, a Texas sunrise and a New York City skyline. Life is saturated in grace and mercy by a God who died to show how much we mean to Him.

Life is beautiful. And I hope I remember to enjoy it.

Sophomore Stress and Coffee Shop Thoughts

I feel like a fraud. Sitting here at Aspen Coffee, sipping chai tea and blogging about my life (my #whitegirl game is too strong) – I feel like the real Alli is miles away from this façade I have created.

I am lost, confused and scared in more ways than I understand, and I have mastered the art of concealment.

Don’t get me wrong, friends. I love life, and I love college. But I have once again let stress and worries and fears monopolize my thinking and confuse my identity.

This summer, I sought God and ran toward Him in ways I never had before. And I felt loved. I felt whole. I felt new, and I felt like life was going the way it was supposed to. And then, school started.

All my free time, all my creativity, all my God-fearing was gone. I promised myself not to get too busy – and I did. I promised myself not to let grades define me – and I have. I promised myself to love people more – and I haven’t.

On the outside, I filter my life. I study hard to get all A’s; I join philanthropies and student organizations, and I serve twice a week at my church. And I love doing that. I love being busy. I love serving others. But in the process of doing things for God, I have forgotten to do things with Him.

Last week, my pastor preached about “dropping the veil” and opening our hearts. Talk about a reality check. I pretend like I have it all together, but on the inside I feel discontented, alone and frazzled.

I have started finding my identity in other people, in other clubs and my own efforts, and every single time I will end up empty. I know all of the right answers. I know I’m supposed to let go and trust God. But some part of me just can’t surrender. And that makes me feel worse.

But the crazy thing is that in all of my chaos, in all of my doubt, in all of my stubbornness, God is there. He hasn’t moved. I can sprint in the opposite direction for miles and still His loving arms are waiting for me.

God loves me in my brokenness. He loves me when I reject Him. And He loves me when I think He isn’t enough.

This all-consuming love is more than I can understand, and it blows my mind every day to think that I could be so perfectly loved by the Creator of the universe. And lately, I’ve been taking it for granted.

I have given so much time to school and organizations and work that I have neglected my relationships. And I feel lonely and disheartened at the lack of time I have poured into my friends.

God created me to love – in fact, the very essence of Christianity, the very essence of life itself is to love one another. That’s how people see Jesus – not in obeying rules and regulations but in loving people unashamedly.

God created me to spend time with Him and delight in His word. And too often, I find myself saying “Sorry, God. I’m too busy today.”

How ridiculous is that? The same God who loves me at my lowest, comforts me when I deny Him and sent Jesus to die for my sinful heart is the same God that I ignore.

But despite my denial and despite my neglect, God still loves me. And He still wants me. And He still makes me new.

The wildest thing about this stressful, intense week is the depths of God’s mercy in it all. My stomach has been in knots, an elephant-sized weight has been on my chest and I have made myself physically sick from stress. But God sees my struggles. And the most beautiful thing is that in my weakness, in my emptiness, in my pain – He gives me strength.

Last Wednesday, I reached a low point. I was stress crying in the classroom building bathroom, and I knew I needed to stop hiding from God. So I pulled up YouVersion, and God showed me how much he cares for me. I read not one, but three devotionals that freed my heart (as well as a text of encouragement from my best friend):

“With God’s help, we can claim more than mere survival – we can claim victory. Look for ways God can use your distress as an opportunity to show his mighty power.”

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which transcends all understanding. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7

And then, friends, if I wasn’t already crying and in awe of my God, I read this:

“No one is smart enough, beautiful enough or wealthy enough to successfully navigate life without God’s help.

“Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted. Unless the Lord protects its city, guarding it will do no good. It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night; anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to His loved ones.” – Psalms 127:1-3
….

Oh, how He loves me. God sees my hurt, and He gives me rest. He gives me peace. He gives me freedom. That doesn’t mean He solves all my problems on my terms. It doesn’t mean I get the outcomes I want. But it does mean that I can trust that He will carry me.

I have been trying to glorify God with things when all He really wants is me. God doesn’t need me to save the world because He took care of that one already. God just wants me to communicate with Him and live loved.

So, I am stressing. And I am broken. But in my weakness, God is stronger than I could ever dream of being, and He is enough for me – even when I feel like I need more.

I am so thankful to serve a God who loves me despite my failures and holds me when I am hurting. I may not always feel like it, but I am so loved and so blessed.

Rock on, friends.

Love Always,
your hipster, overly- caffeinated, terrible-with- titles,
Alli

Future Fears

HGTV features the lengthy, rewarding process of house restoration. People risk thousands to buy ugly, old houses in hope of creating a work of art. Revealing a home exceeding all expectations, every episode showcases the success possible through faith, hard work and perseverance. I think God works the same way. I see my flaws, but God sees my potential. And just like HGTV renovates beaten homes, the Ultimate Architect restores our lives and our futures with beautiful craftsmanship.

As I enter “the real world” it gets harder to determine where I want to go, what I want to do, and ultimately, who I want to be. I know God has reasons for concealing His plans for me, but sometimes it’s hard for my Type A personality to live such an unstructured life. I fear the future more than I like to admit, and I fear the “what ifs” and unknowns so inevitably woven in life.

I worry about tomorrow because I am in the middle of messy construction. My life is a million scattered pieces, and I don’t know how to put them together. And as a control freak, it scares me living without a concrete manual. It’s easy to worry about money and security and unfulfilled expectations. But all of my worrying and planning doesn’t improve my tomorrow; it destroys my today.

Isn’t it mind-boggling that we never actually live in our tomorrows? We only ever live in the present, the today. As Kung Foo Panda taught me, “That’s why it’s called a present.” We aren’t promised the future. We are promised life. I don’t want to waste my days; I want to enjoy each moment as the beautiful gift it is.

Romans 8:32 says “Since He did not spare even His own Son but gave Him up for us all, won’t He also give us everything else?” Woah. God paid the ultimate price for my eternal salvation. If God can surrender His beloved flesh and blood to save a sinner like me, I’m more than confident He can and will provide my earthly needs.

I wish I could see my future floor plan, but without fear, there would be no faith. We all endure seasons of brokenness, seasons of uncertainty and seasons of ugliness. We fear the future; we fear failure; we fear inadequacy.

Scientists explain that “darkness is merely the absence of light.” Similarly, I think fear is the absence of hope. Or perhaps – misplaced hope. Fearing my future simply means that I worry about everything that could go wrong instead of praying for could go right.

So maybe I don’t know what’s next. And honestly, I would be lying if I said that didn’t scare me. But if my trust is in the one who created Heaven and Earth and calls me by name, I think I’ll be more than OK. After all, he already promised a unique plan for my life, and He always keeps His promises – look at a rainbow! (Jeremiah 29:11; Deuteronomy 7:9, Genesis 6-9)

Just as HGTV creates art from wreckage, God breathes beauty from our darkest points. I may not always know where I’m going, but I know exactly who to follow. And I’ve never felt more secure.

The Frustrating Nature of Free Will

DNA marks each of us with a “genetic blueprint” that determines our physical characteristics. As much as we may want to share genes with Emma Watson, no two people possess identical sequences. DNA, therefore, proves that conformity is a genetic impossibility.

God did not create us to be synchronized robots. He knit us together with special personalities, gifts and purposes for the world. Yet this same freedom of individuality for which we praise Him is the same freedom for which we blame Him. Basically, we have a love/hate relationship with free will.

The depth of God’s love allows choices. Judah Smith wisely and eloquently expressed God’s love in the Life Church message series here. Forcing someone to love you is frowned upon (and illegal.) God loves us enough to let us choose whether to return His affection.

But this same free will we celebrate is the same free will we hate. When our horrific circumstances engulf us, we blame God. We ask why He would allow such pain and suffering and injustice in a world He so lovingly designed. We ask “why do bad things happen to good people?” We wonder. We hurt. We blame.

I think expressing anger at the atrocities of the world displays commendable compassion. In fact, if the problems of the world don’t concern you, I fear that you actually might be a synchronized robot. Anger is a normal emotional response, and doubt is an understandable reaction. If we knew the answers to all of our deep, philosophical questions, there would be no need for God.

Frankly, I don’t know why God allows such suffering in the world. By the time I know, it won’t matter anymore because I’ll be rejoicing. God doesn’t engender wrecks or massacres or tragedies. He doesn’t just shoot lightning from Heaven as punishment. He just loves us enough to let us choose the path of our lives. Some choose goodness. Some choose wickedness.

God also never promised us an easy life. (See John 16:33) I believe that “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” (Psalms 34:18). But most of all, I believe in the end of the Bible. The best part about the Christian life is that we know the ending. There’s no waiting in line for the movie. We can skip to the end of the book. Satan seems to win in this life. But he loses eternity.

There are tragedies all over the world that I cannot begin to explain. My heart breaks for the struggles of life and for the people caught in waves of desolation. But I know that God “works for the good of those who love him…” (Romans 8:28) and sometimes He is silent in the storm because He is preparing a rainbow.

Being Kinder than Necessary

My mom has this bumper sticker that says, “Be Kinder than Necessary.” My dad teases her, but imagine a world where people focused their energy on irrational kindness. Now, I’m not naïve enough to believe in utopias (except Heaven, of course) but I do believe that there is an inherent goodness in everyone. And I believe that displaying that goodness through simple acts of kindness may be the best Bible some ever see.

It’s easy to be unkind in this world. Traffic triggers road rage; advertising advocates discontentment; technology tempts isolation. These negative forces make us unhappy, insecure, irritated and envious – emotions not conducive to kindness. Even worse, our schedules are constantly crammed, our stress levels skyrocket, and the news bombards us with the world’s problems. 

If we want to live happy lives, kind lives, godly lives, we have to love people the way Christ loves them. It’s not easy, and I fail every day. But sometimes the people who are hardest to love are the same people who need it the most. So where do we start?

Loving others begins when we find love for Christ.

If we don’t feel loved ourselves, how can we love others? God loves us with an unimaginable love, even on our worst days. And nothing we do will separate us from the love that is God. He made sure of that by sending His son to die for us. Isn’t that incredible?! Romans 8:38 says, “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries for tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.” God loved us when we didn’t love him back. God still loves us when we do stupid things and blame Him for them. God loves in our failures, in our weaknesses, in our successes and in our strengths. God loves always.

“We love because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

Once we recognize that we don’t deserve God’s unconditional love, it seems only fitting that we would strive to make his love known. If Jesus loves and forgives the people who literally put a crown of thorns on his head, I can love the person who cuts in line. If Jesus loves and forgives the people who screamed blasphemous insults at Him when He was dying for them, I can love the person who subtweets me. It doesn’t matter if they deserve it. I don’t deserve God’s love, but I have it. The least I can do is love others the way He wants me to.

Grateful people are happy, kind people.

Numerous studies have confirmed that the happiest people are the most grateful people. This makes sense because envy and discontentment breed bitterness. In our society, we adopt an unhealthy mentality that we always need more than what we have. It sickens me that I can complain about lack of wifi when millions of children lack water. I don’t say this to engender guilt but rather to prevent greed. After all, if we didn’t have money and resources, how could we help those in need? We just must remember to treasure what we have, not measure what we don’t. If we are content with our lives and ourselves, kindness will abound.

“Hurt people, hurt people. Forgiven people, forgive people.”

When people upset us, it’s our instinct to fight back. It’s true that we think without speaking, but with social media and texting, it’s even truer that we post without processing. In the heat of our anger, it’s all too easy to post things we would never say. But before we subtweet, before we push send, and before we ruin a friendship, we should remember that our temporary hurt is not worth permanent consequences. If we believe that God forgives us for every dumb thing we do, we can extend that same grace to others, who are just flawed humans like ourselves.

Focus on why, not what.

My counselor mom, who has more wisdom than anyone I know, is forever reminding me that there are reasons for people’s mean behavior. It’s easy to focus on what they are doing, but it takes true kindness to examine why they are doing it. Most of the time, insults aren’t personal attacks. They are often just misguided jealousy, insecurity, or anger from other problems. People come from broken homes. People fight addiction. People feel unloved. Recognizing the circumstances of others lessons anger. It doesn’t excuse their action, but it helps our reaction be more like Jesus. So sometimes people just need a little love and a little kindness. It’s not enough to tell people about Christ; we must show them.

Disclaimer: General Statements Ahead

Maybe I sound like a hippie trying to get everyone singing kumbayah. But lately, everyone keeps saying that Christ has evaded our culture. The problem isn’t that Jesus has left. The problem is that we aren’t living like Him. And living like Jesus starts with loving like Him. So my mom’s cheesy bumper sticker sums it all up: “Be Kinder than Necessary.”

The Eight Best Lessons I am Still Learning

With my 19th birthday coming up, I am again reminded that I am supposedly an adult now – even though I still love Disney movies, crayons and kids meals. Though this new label freaks me out, the godly examples of my family, teachers and friends inspire my life. These wonderful people continue to teach me the eight best lessons I am still learning. (In no particular order.)

1. You cannot save the world. Jesus already did that.

Man, do I struggle with this one. Sometimes I try to save people instead of pointing them to the Savior. Yes, it breaks my heart to see people sad, lonely or afraid. But Jesus never promised this life would be easy. He promised to overcome it. “Take heart, in this world you will have trouble. But I have overcome the world…” (John 16:33) I am not big enough or strong enough to take on all the world’s problems, but my God is.

2. You cannot please everyone. Be a God-pleaser, not a people-pleaser.

I, Alli Owen, am a people pleaser. This is otherwise known as the “make-everybody-happy disease.” The thing is, we cannot please everyone. There will always be someone who disagrees, and that’s OK. That’s why God gave us free will! But I do know that if you spend your life trying to make everybody happy, you never will be. Carl Lentz (an awesome preacher) said “at the end of the day, I seek to please an audience of one. God.” And that’s the only opinion that matters.

3. “Do not be anxious about anything…” (Philippians 4:6-7)

I am not only a people-pleaser but also a worrywart. I let myself think in terms of “if only” and “what if…” too often. Anxiety is poison, and it diminishes my faith in God. Someone once told me, “Your brain doesn’t have room for both worry and faith.” And that’s true. If I have faith that God created an entire plan for my life and He “will never leave nor forsake me,” there is no use in worrying.

4. “Be STILL and KNOW that I am God…” (Psalms 46:10)

Confession. Sometimes, I boss God around. How silly is that? I, a teenage girl with limited understanding try to tell the Creator of Heaven and Earth what to do and when to do it. Did I mention that I’m the same girl who burns cookies in the oven? (And I’m talking about the ready-made ones…) Doing things my way culminates in outcomes as burnt as my culinary fiascos. So relax, be still and let God work because His plan is infinitely greater than we could ever imagine.

5. I am not good enough. But God is more than enough.

Insecurities are lies. Sometimes I tell myself that I am not good enough, and the truth is, I’m not. None of us are. If we were, Jesus wouldn’t have died for us. But “His grace is sufficient for us…” (2 Corinthians 12:9) Jesus died so we never have to worry about being good enough! He will never stop loving you, even when you can’t seem to love yourself. So replace negative thoughts with the words of a God who loves you so much that He sent his Son as the ultimate sacrifice for you.

6. There is no scale of Christianity.

For a long time, I let myself believe that I wasn’t Christian enough. I thought there was some holiness scale that measured your faith, and I could never measure up. I let myself feel ashamed because “I didn’t go to church enough, raise my hand in worship enough or wear Jesus T-Shirts.” I’m not kidding, I seriously thought that. But as so many people have pointed out, Christianity is not a religion based on rituals. It’s a relationship rooted in love. Don’t compare yourself to other Christians because it’s not about measuring faith. It’s about having a personal connection to God. The rest comes from love, not obligation.

7. Christianity is not about judgment and “no fun.”

There’s a reason God is referred to as our “Father.” We understand that our own dads love us unconditionally, even when we mess up. And even when our dads get angry with us for disobeying them, the anger is only because they love us enough to want the best for us. I imagine God as the ultimate dad. He isn’t a God of “no” and “no fun.” He just has the wisdom to know that the things that might make me happy for a moment aren’t the things that will satisfy me later.

8. All adventures begin outside of my comfort zone.

There are so many people to meet, things to do and life to live. But sometimes I let fear confine me. God gave us one life. One life to dream; one life to love; one life to live. One of my favorite quotes is “Ships are safe in harbors, but that’s not where ships were meant to be.” Our lives are oceans of possibilities. Don’t live life in the harbor, friends.