Consider this your first Christmas present of the year. (: I designed these high quality wallpapers to decorate every iPhone that belongs to a heart excited for December, winter, and this Christmas season. Celebrate just a little bit more by saving these right to your phone and trying them on for size!
One of my housemates, Destiny, and I used our Saturday to explore to the Oxford Exchange in Tampa. We took the morning to doll ourselves up and then traveled to Tampa, pretending all day that we were successful, prosperous, glamorous women -- as that is what we fully intend to one day become. We sipped cappuccinos and discussed our dreams, Vogue in the 20's, and the vitality of class.
For four years of my life I was a wedding photographer. I have been to countless weddings, encountered many white gowns, numerous ring exchanges, and too many dances to recall. However, there is one moment during this wedding-filled season of my life that I remember quite vividly: As I watched the bride twirl around the dance floor with her father, tiny drops fell from my eyes and into my camera's viewfinder. I tried to stop but those traitor tears would not cease to flow as I could not shake the overwhelming knowledge of just how great of a father I had. Always patient, always gentle, always concerned with the condition of my heart, my dad has fathered in a way that leaves me without words. Standing there in the middle of this wedding, I remember distinctly wondering how in the world a man could love me as much as I was loved by my dad.
Thank you, Dad, for not only always saying I could do anything and everything I wanted to do, but through supporting me you lived as if that was an obvious reality. Thank you for loving me even when I was extremely, absolutely unlovable. Thank you for every time I screamed, stomped up the stairs, slammed my door, and you followed me; never complaining you sat and listened to my feelings even if it took me 45 minutes to convey them. You never defined me by my feelings or actions but only ever as Elisabeth, your daughter, which that has been the greatest gift and one of the greatest honors and roles given to me.
You have taught me generosity. You have taught me endurance. You have taught me slow angering patience. You have taught me that life throws you a lot of things and to only worry about what's important, the rest can be cast aside. And now as a woman out in this world I will do everything I can to use everything you have given me, which has made me who I am, to try and in turn bless others.
"If only I was musical. I would give up all my beauty to be musical! Not my fortune, but yeah, my beauty." - Frits
"Come on, family! If we get just a little more dysfunctional, they'll give us our own TV show!"- Frits
"You can do anything you want, no matter what anyone says. It's stupid to listen to those people anyway; it shows they don't know what they want. You do. You just work hard and you can do whatever you want to do." - Frits
“A lot of girls were sold on a deal and not on a Savior.”
I first read this from a fellow blogger at Grace for the Road a year ago. I read it and conviction shook my core so intensely that my purity ring most likely fell off. Either way, I intentionally took it off afterward.
There is a breed of young women who decided that, sure, they could wait until their wedding night – as long as that meant in turn God would bring them the man. You know who I’m talking about, don’t even pretend. He loves Jesus with all his heart and has been going to church every Sunday of his life. He’s probably the pastor’s kid or a missionary’s son. He leads worship for every single service throughout the week (girl, you know he sings and plays guitar), walks with other guys in the Church, and has definitely been waiting sexually for his wife, living his whole life with his eyes on the prize, a.k.a. you. (Even though he has raging hormones and hasn’t even met you yet… That’s awkward.)
Because we can never meet God’s standards, I think He’d be gallant enough to avoid striking up deals like this with his children altogether. It would never turn out in our favor. We could never hold up our end of the deal. What breaks my heart the most about this is that we “take” this “deal” and claim it is us loving Jesus.
And I’ve done it.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting a good husband; not many of us pray for lousy ones. But let’s be honest here and confess why 98% of us wear the ring. It’s not always because being caught up in Jesus is making it easier to live a pure lifestyle. It’s more often than not because we think we can work God into giving us what we want. We’ll sacrifice the desire now to have an awesome later, all the while waving around our righteousness.
The happily ever after became the end-all.
I have many memories of a five year-old me sitting on the floor looking up at a television screen playing Disney movies. However, there is one instance I remember in particular: I was watching Ariel and Prince Eric kiss, and on the screen their first kiss magically faded into a shot of their victorious wedding kiss. There are two reasons as to why I recall this memory so vividly fourteen years later. One, I specifically remember wondering why in the world Eric’s lips were covering Ariel’s. That was not necessary to smooch. It just looked wrong and disgusting and I was never going to let a man do that to me. Two, I remember being so very excited to get married one day. They met, fell in love, kissed once, and got married. This was the first time. At five years old. I was roped in.
The Purity Movement, similar to Disney movies, puts all of the focus and emphasis on the happily ever after, the wedding day, the wedding night. It painted, at least for me, a picture where the wedding will be the pinnacle of life. Save yourself for your wedding night, the Movement says, save yourself, and all your dreams will come true. Your husband will be perfect, your marriage, though “hard” (whatever that means), will be perfect, and you will be perfectly happy and fulfilled. I realize this is not what the Purity Movement verbalizes word-for-word, but mix the legalistic deal with a prowling lion and our flesh, and this is the cancer that will stem through minds everywhere.
It took too many broken hearts, too many dreams dead, and too many hopes buried before I realized that any union with a human should not and will not be the pinnacle of my existence. While mourning – literally on the floor of my room mourning – the death of my pinnacle-marriage fantasy, Jesus, the ever flowing well of hope and dreams, pulled me in tight and whispered new hopes and dreams into my heart. They were His hopes for my future and, if married, for my husband. They were dreams that put the stories that fairy tales told me to shame in comparison.
These dreams are not picture perfect. Because of the world in which we live, the story will actually hold a great deal of sin and pain. It is the love Jesus is calling me to that makes His dreams for me so much better than the ones I dreamt at five years old. It’s a love that covers every past and every pain and is strong enough to look someone in the face and say, “I see only who God saw when He made you, it has captivated me; and I’m going to be your teammate always, no matter what comes our way.” That is the love I desire to give and receive, far more than a fleeting, seemingly perfect passion because some mermaid-chick serenaded a man on the beach. Despite the spotlight that the Purity Movement shines on it, the wedding night (though beautiful and precious) is not the end-all; it is severely and wonderfully the beginning.
Purity became a synonym for virginity.
I know many people who are not virgins and are still living purer lifestyles than those who are saving sex for marriage. Purity and virginity are not interchangeable. How could they be if we believe in a Savior who looks not at the past but at our hearts kneeled before Him? Do we truly believe that grace could be that radical? It breaks us from our past’s chains and unveils to us who we really are.
Who is more pure: one who “lacks” virginity but now lives a lifestyle to abstain from sexual immorality or one who is a virgin but is pushing the limits of how far can we go. The former, friends, it’s the former.
There is no room for grace to dwell if we equate virginity with purity. If the two were the same, this would mean that hope would be lost forever after a mistake was made. This would mean one would live under a label, defined by something other than one’s identity in Christ. This would mean that there would be something under the sun that Jesus’ blood could not completely restore.
Praise God that two people with the right hearts, regardless of past, can both be pure on their wedding night. Praise God that we do not live under a three-strikes-you’re-out judgment but under grace, upon grace, upon grace which calls us out of death and lets us try again. Praise God that He gently brings close and cries over the forgiven until His tears wash away our flesh, heal our wounds, and frees us to be who He imagined us to be.
The goal became perfection not grace.
For so many who don the ring, eyes get distracted from looking into Jesus’ face to scrutinize behavior. Every time we take our eyes off of Jesus and focus on our actions, either pride or insecurity is guaranteed to follow. What human thinks he or she can make a vow to be perfect and that it is going to turn out well? The goal to be perfectly pure because of a promise one made is a trap to bind oneself up in guilt and shame.
Our real crime occurs after we slip up. When we get caught up in this world and sin, really trip up behind our "purity" label – our worlds fall apart. Because of the intense pressure from the Movement, guilt consumes us, tears shower our faces, and our hearts break. We cry out apologizing again and again to Jesus. We think of those whom we let down. We worry about the hypocrisy of our ring.
The crime is found in our anxiety over our slip up. We’re told to repent and ask for forgiveness. But we cannot forget that it also says we were set free by Jesus Christ for the sake of freedom, not because we made it through another day in purity. The crime is found in the laws that we create and plug into our lives. The crime is found in the forgetting that Jesus knew and felt our sins when they were poured out onto Him while Heaven looked away and He hung on the cross. The crime is letting our sin over shadow the powerful truth that He still pursues our hearts daily.
Not only do we abuse ourselves after mistakes are made, but we will point fingers (even with the hand bearing the ring) at others who are not reaching the perfectly pure standard that we are trying (and also failing) to fulfill.
Children of God are called to freedom – to be adventurous, strong, loving beings – despite any perversion, shameful act, or addiction. We are free of all chains, assumptions, expectations, and labels. We are invited to enter an overwhelmingly grand story with God filled with joy, victory, and yes, even passion.
I am set free. I am pure. So are you.
And we don’t need the ring to tell us this.
We have the Cross.
Currently I live with 7 other women. This was a thought that a year ago would make me want to curl up into the fetal position on the floor and rock back and forth. But I have to be honest, I have been so incredibly blessed. In recognition and gratitude of this, let's celebrate why living with women is such a wonderful thing:
1.} You always feel beautiful in the room. Whether you're putting make up on in the bathroom, rolling out of bed with swollen eyes, or trying to figure out what to wear for the day, you will always unexpectedly receive a compliment. A "you look so cute!", "I love those pants!", or "you are so stylish!" can really turn a girl's day around. And because none of us are looking to make out with each other, we can rest assured that these unexpected compliments are authentic and true! Happy women receive joy by offering words of affirmation to others whenever possible; and they know that it is indeed always possible.
2.} You always have someone to share in your joys. Having roommates peaking around the corner while that handsome man asks you out to coffee and then dancing around the suite in celebration after the door is shut is fun. It's just fun and sweet. Secure women are willing to rejoice in another's blessings; they do not feel threatened or as if others' victories diminish their own.
3.} You always have someone praying for you. Whether it's an outcome of crying in someone else's room because boys suck, money is tight, and life is full of the meanest attacks; or whether it's an outcome of flinging the door open, squealing because men are awesome, God always provides, and life is full of the sweetest gifts, there will be a "let me pray with you!" There will be texts saying, "Hey girl! Do you have anything I could pray for you for?" You never feel alone in the (flummoxing or exciting) whirlwind. Women after God's heart realize that life is a nothing but a battle and prayer is the single most powerful tactic to live alert and live victoriously.
4.} You always have someone who gets you. You don't have to finish that sentence. You don't have to apologize for your moments of craziness. You don't have to explain that emotion (but you can if it will make you feel better). There is a ebbing and flowing of understanding between a suite of women. That effort to bridge understanding in communication between male and female isn't needed in your estrogen-filled home. You can relax and talk effortlessly (and you don't have to wear pants while doing so). Wise women realize that a gentle, listening heart can help heal the heart that's hurting. They also realize that they can gain from another's experiences, never too prideful to take advice or encouragement.
5.} You always have back up. I'm talkin' if you ran out of hairspray, need a second wardrobe, or need someone there to calm you down as you are hyperventilating, waiting for your date to knock on the door. From when you need that shade of nail polish to when you don't know how life got so off track -- you always have a friend supporting you when you falter. Fulfilled women are generous with their time, treasures, and emotions; and they are honored to give to another.
It scares me when Christ followers let things like devotion time get "cliche." This time to set apart with God is not designed for just obligatory BIble reading. It is a time of devotion, be it expressed through reading the Word, music, painting, drawing, reading, sitting, focusing, contemplating... It's covering yourself in God's truth and lingering in the nearness of His presence. Why do we think that the two pages in the tiny devotion book read yesterday morning will sustain us while we are in the middle of a life or death battle between evil and good forces?
I am not good. I am not good. So why do I think that without the help of a grace-filled Savior I could be good today? What makes me think that I can conquer the grumpy, jealous, prideful girl within me without my Jesus who whispers, "I died so that you can be the sweet, patient, trusting, happy, surrendered woman you really are." I need Christ's blood to cleanse me every moment of every day, and this is done within my concentrated efforts of devotion time with Him. Here are 6 reasons why you and I need this time:
1.} You will eventually live in the fruits of that moment with God.
There will always be seasons where spending a concentrated time with God feels mundane, and quite honestly like a waste of time. We don't always feel swept up by the Holy Spirit, and this is okay. You're not doing it wrong or an unrighteous person for not receiving some Heavenly revelation everyday. I actually believe it is intended to be this way. Choosing God and choosing to be in His presence even when we don't necessarily want to is a valuable expression of love and devotion. Even when it feels like a waste, every moment in His presence will be used in your life. That moment, the mundane, silent moment, where you choose to be still, read the Word, or pray that prayer, will produce fruits. The fruits of that moment with Him will be pulled out like a sword to be used in the future, equipping you for every need ahead.
2.} If you don't spend time with God, it will hurt your loved ones.
(These aren't my words but His, 1 John 4:8). To love others the way we are called to, the way people (be it family, friends, significants, or neighbors) need us to, we must fill and fill and fill ourselves with Jesus' love for us and then pour it onto others out of that overflow. This is the only way. You cannot pour water out of a cistern without filling it first. You can try loving them with your finite, human love. You can try -- and if you succeed, let me know. But I have tried and I cannot. When I am not filled with Jesus' love for me which comes from spending time in His presence, my "love" either becomes selfish, manipulative, or an idol; and it makes me -- honestly -- a freak. And that does not get the job done. We cannot love without Jesus' love for us flowing up inside because 1) without it, we are an insecure people and insecure people cannot love others fully, and 2) without it, we judge people by their sin and forget who they really are, who their identity is in Heaven and in the eyes of God.
3.} If you don't, you will stop loving.
You will stop loving others, you will stop loving what God is doing in you, and you will stop loving anything and everything life has to offer. Sound romantically melodramatic? I guarantee that taking the Giver of life out of life, makes things a little less interesting and exciting. Taking the Giver of your passions out of the equations quite simply leaves you without any passion or motivation for anything.
4.} Without daily devotion time, you will forget who you are.
Not spending time with God allows our minds to get cloudy. And just as you will judge others by their sin and forget their identity in Christ, YOU will forget who YOUR identity in Christ is. Sin and shame will silently slither in and it will steal the sweet whisperings God gave you about who you are. Your talents. Your gifts. Your dreams. Your personality. Your strengths. It will all fade into the dark until you are left with no sense of self, and because you are a powerful being God has plans to use, that is exactly what Satan will want to steal from you to disarm you.
5.} If you don't, you won't reach your calling.
The things God once put on your heart for your future will slowly become distorted or fade away completely. What was once steps being taken forward in the right direction will turn into walking in circles until you become tired and stuck and sit down where you are. Without passion, without remembering who you are, and without regular conversation/connection time with God -- the future God wrote for you, to Glorify Him and fulfill your soul, will be out of reach.
6.} If you're not clinging to Him in His presence, you will cling to SOMETHING else.
We are dependent beings. We need something to make us feel good, feel whole, and feel hopeful. If we are not filling ourselves up with His presence and depending on God, we will depend on something else (from a sin to a person), something that will fail us and hurt us. It will not work and make you so insecure and afraid to a point that will ruin the relationships closest to you. Cling to Who will fulfill your heart, overwhelm your soul, and make you feel alive. Endlessly pursue His presence.