For the Love of Autumn

I love fall. A lot. I buy the cute turkey towels on the endcaps at Walmart, I wear jeans and sweaters when it’s still 89 degrees outside, and my username on all my social media is varying combinations of the name PumpkinSpiceHedgie—all year ‘round. Even when my friends make fun of me for it (all in good fun, of course), I can’t stress it enough: I really love fall.

You, however, didn’t click on this link to hear me ramble on about how much I love fall. Maybe you’re a spring-lover, or maybe you thrive in the snows of winter. Maybe you just have better things to think about than seasons, and you wonder why people like me get so worked up about the onset of a change in weather. Sometimes, I wonder that, too. So I decided to answer my own question, and—for added challenge—I decided to find Bible verses to match my reasoning. Not for any theological reason; just because God takes joy in our joy, and He’s bound to have something to say about it.

The first thing I think of when I think of autumn is the changing of the leaves. I still get a sense of childlike joy when I walk through a pile of sweet-smelling, crunchy leaves. Even though I live in Texas and the foliage mostly just turns brown and falls off, the trees surrounding my university manage to turn all kinds of bright colors anyway before they leaf (heh, pun) for the winter.

More than that, though, it makes me think of 2 Corinthians 5:17, in which Paul rejoices, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here!” (New International Version). The process of becoming a new person, one whose focus is on God alone, isn’t easy; sometimes, it can feel like you’re just a dead leaf being stepped on. But take heart! God is working to bring something new and better out of you, and just like the leaves will emerge again in the spring, you will find yourself blooming.

Another great thing about fall is the change in weather. As it starts getting cooler outside, there’s nothing better than curling up in a big, soft blanket with a book. It’s so unreasonably hard to leave the safe blanket for the cold that dwells without!

That’s why Isaiah 54:10 stands out to me: “‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” When things around us are terrible, deplorable, or just plain unpleasant, God wraps his arms around us like a big, soft blanket.

It’s hard to escape a discussion of fall without addressing the pumpkin spice latte craze. I will personally eat almost anything with the words “pumpkin spice” slapped on the side, so I was determined to find a way to biblically justify the existence and enjoyment of this delectable flavor.

Alas, Jesus never said, “Blessed is the one who drinks coffee somehow infused with cinnamon and pumpkin.” To my knowledge, the words “pumpkin” and “coffee” aren’t locatable in the Bible. What is in the Bible, however, are a plethora of verses about the passionate love God has for us.

“Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures forever” (Psalm 136:26).

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Think about how much you or your PSL-obsessed friend loves that spicy goodness and multiply that love by thousands, even millions. That’s how much God loves us.

Even though it’s important to remember God’s love and faithfulness all year ‘round, I find it easiest in autumn, which is a part of why I love it so much. Maybe that’s just a “me” thing, and you have something else that gets you in the mood for September 22 to finally arrive. If so, I invite you to share below, but I also invite you to consider these things, as well.  It makes the end of summer a little sweeter.

Written by Catherine

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The Bridezilla of Christ

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been personally victimized by someone else’s wedding.

If it wasn’t the pea-colored bridesmaid dress you were forced to wear (and purchase), then it was the evil seating arrangement that stuck you between your former significant other and her flirtatious sister. Maybe it was the delicious looking buffet that turned out to be completely vegan, or worst of all, the invitation you were promised but mysteriously never received. It’s not always the case, but nine times out of ten it feels as though most wedding horror stories originate from one single entity: a bridezilla. Many people have had their fair share of run-ins with bridezillas whose dream weddings have turned into nightmares. Even if you’re as fortunate as I am and have never personally known a bridezilla, you’ve heard the stories and seen the movies.

A bridezilla demands her way, refusing to sway from her personal preferences regardless of the cost. She bullies others into doing what she wants, and instead of apologizing, she offers empty excuses. Her mind is constantly changing, but she expects everyone to cater to her desires anyway. She is so focused on herself that she forgets about the feelings of her guests, the needs of her chosen wedding party, and even the groom to whom she is to be wed.

I’d now like to take this moment to remind you that one of the most prominent biblical images of Christ and the Church is that of a bride and a groom.

“For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name…” (Is. 54:5)

“And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband’…” (Hosea 2:16)

“For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.” (2 Cor. 11:2)

“‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.” (Rev. 21:10)

This is an accurate illustration for more reasons than just the good that comes from a marriage relationship. The Church can be one heck of a bridezilla. If you can’t fathom that such a thing might be so, look back over that definition of a bridezilla one more time. Selfish. Demanding. Fickle. Spoiled. Needy. Ungrateful. Unfortunately, that can all describe the Bride of Christ. It’s enough to make any guest in the building flee in fear, and it can quickly drive away even the most God-fearing of saints.

Yet the Bridegoom still loves his bride. Oh, how he loves her!

Bridezilla as the Church may act, Jesus sees the hidden gems that we truly are. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. If we think we’re rough around the edges now, remember where we were before Jesus was Lord of our lives. The condition we were in when he invited us to be his bride was worse than any bridezilla you’ll ever meet; we were the essence of hopelessness and death. Yet Jesus loves the Church, holds community with the Church, and fights on behalf of the Church.

For this reason, Church, we, too, must love the Church.

The realization that we as sinners are undeserving of Christ’ love is not shocking; neither is the realization that there is difficulty in loving the Body of Christ. All the same, if we love Jesus, we must love his bride. No matter how many mistakes she may make, if you slander or wound a bride, chances are, her husband-to-be is not going to respond positively to your actions. Though he may not condone her behavior, he will always come to the rescue of his bride. Why do we suppose that Jesus is any different?

If you’re struggling to love the Church, you aren’t alone. Sometimes the Bride of Christ looks more like the Bridezilla of Christ, and it hurts to love her. I’ve been there; love her through it. Other times, loving the Bride of Christ requires that you pull away from unmerited lies of unworthiness and shame and allow yourself to be swept up by the extended, earthly arms of the Lord, his Church. I’ve been there, too; you cannot love the Bride if you do not believe that you, yourself, are worthy of his love.

The ironic thing about bridezillas is that as bad as they can be, people go to the weddings anyway. True friends and family recognize the special nature of weddings and choose life-long love over temporary stubbornness. One glorious day, the Bridegroom will return for his Beloved and make all things new and pure and holy. Until that beautiful wedding day, stay strong, Christians; there will be no bridezilla in Heaven, only the precious Wife of the Lamb.

Written by Savanna

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Shades of Dirt

Ever since I was a little girl, my parents have taken me on mission trips around the nation and into surrounding countries. For some, the idea of being dragged from place to place every summer for the better half of their lives seems exhausting and unappealing, but for me, nothing sounds more intriguing, more comfortable, or more like home.

Traveling has always been one of my deepest passions. I love to see new places for the first time: the way the air smells, the color of the ground, and the mixture of noises that roll down the streets are the very first things I notice and document (because one should always document the brown-ness of the dirt when traveling).  I am a sucker for aesthetics, and there really is something beautiful about observing the physical characteristics that make a town, country, or village unique. However, in the midst of God’s extravagantly stunning terrain, there is something about each new place I visit that never fails to captivate me the most: the people.

I have never journeyed to a place where the people weren’t completely and whole-heartedly hospitable to me. Yes, this might sound ridiculously naïve of me to say because, hello, we’re living in a world where people tend to thrive off of nothing but hating, shaming, and ridiculing others. However, I’m here to tell you that, for the most part, people are generally good at their core, at least to those who are sincerely interested in knowing them.

Don’t read me wrong.

I know that there are rotten people in the world. I know that violence, hate, discrimination, and terrorism are real and prevalent today. I know that the world isn’t full of rainbows and unicorns, and trust me when I say that I know that not everyone is nice, accepting, or honest. I know that the media reports more on arbitrary acts of brutality than random acts of kindness. I know all of these things and understand them to be true, but I also know that warmth and sincerity are appreciated. I know that compassion and generosity do not go unnoticed by their recipients. I know that, by taking the time to truly get to know someone, strangers can be made family.

I could tell you a hundred stories about the mission trips I have gone on, the places I have seen, or the shades of dirt that I have written about in my travel journals, but the thing that I feel most passionately about today is hospitality. Being hospitable is most commonly associated with the idea that one should welcome others into their homes, feed them, and care for them when they are in need, and while that association is appropriate, it isn’t exactly the only way of showing hospitality to others. Hospitality can be as simple as welcoming a stranger into a conversation, showing kindness to the driver who can’t pick a lane, or accepting the fact that someone else can hold an opposing opinion on politics. Showing hospitality isn’t difficult. It isn’t costly or even that time consuming. It’s important, it’s cherished, and it has the power to change someone’s world.

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” –Hebrews 13:2

Written by Haley

Image credit: Haley Briggs

Take Chances, Make Mistakes

Over the Christmas/New Year holiday, one of my family’s favorite traditions is watching the annual Mythbusters marathon on the Science channel. For anyone who actually has things to do over the holidays and has no time to flip channels, Mythbusters episodes—all fourteen seasons—run back-to-back for nearly two weeks, saving everyone the breath it takes to moan, “There’s never anything on over Christmas!” It’s almost as good as a college education, but with practical knowledge instead of vague theories. (Sorry, college.)

Among the many notable quotes from the show (e.g. “This is starting to sound like a bad idea,” “Am I missing an eyebrow?” and “I reject your reality and substitute my own”) is one used quite often throughout the show’s run. In the episode in which this particular quote was first used, the Mythbusters hosts attempt to get two trucks to fuse together by crushing a small car between them at high speed, but no matter what they do, some part of the experimental process goes wrong. After several failed attempts and discouraging results, the hosts finally manage to completely demolish the trucks and car, but, just before the test, they spray-paint a valuable lesson on the sides of the semis: “Failure is always an option.”

The idea of failure being a viable option is easy enough to learn when the whole idea of an endeavor is to learn whether or not something can be done, like in the process of myth-busting. When the stakes are higher—say, a student must make an A on her final exam in order to pass her class—failure suddenly becomes a lot scarier. When we think of failure, we often think of an ashamed student refusing to look his or her angry parents in the eye as they wave a test with a big, red F scribbled across it, but it’s not always that simple. Failure can take different forms for different people; even the student with a 4.0 GPA can live in fear of that first A- (ask me how I know). Writers know this well; after all, what if their manuscripts aren’t good enough for a publisher to accept?

Sometimes we need a little push to get going on a task and do it well, and fear of failure is as good an incentive as any. However, letting that fear of failure run our lives is a much bigger mistake. Say, for example, all your friends are going ice skating at the mall, and they invite you to go with them. The thing is, you’ve never skated before, and you’re sure you’ll end up on your backside, bruised and embarrassed, with the entire mall laughing at you. What’s the harm in saving yourself a little dignity? Besides the fact that you could be a great skater and you just don’t know it yet, you’re giving up valuable bonding time with your friends. Plus, even if you do have trouble simply standing in skates, you might have a good time, anyway.

Most importantly, though, failing gracefully in a small instance such as this failed ice skating excursion would give you the ability to fail gracefully in bigger situations. I can’t stress enough how important it is to train your mind to not beat yourself up over mistakes. It takes conscious effort to say, “Hey, that didn’t go well, but I’m still smart and capable, and I can learn from this, so I can avoid making the same mistake again.” However, as hard as that can be, completely forgiving one’s own mistakes is even harder.

There are endless Bible verses about forgiveness, but sometimes we forget that those verses aren’t just for sinners to receive admittance to heaven. We can rest easy in God’s forgiveness, knowing that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Our sins are covered, so what are our blunders to God? They simply don’t matter. That means we can forgive ourselves; we can refuse to dwell on our mistakes and move on; we can learn from them, but they don’t have to signify the end. In that sense, failure is absolutely an option.

ms-frizzle

The end of the Mythbusters story didn’t come for another four years. This was the time when the valiant Mythbusters decided to retest the myth—only this time, the test was successful. The ultimate conclusion, that two semis cannot fuse together via high-speed collision, was the same, but this time, everything went according to plan, and everyone was satisfied (except for the unfortunate assortment of vehicles, of course; they didn’t stand a chance against a rocket sled). That’s the thing about failure—it’s almost never final. In a vast majority of cases, failure is still a perfectly viable option. Failure is a chance to learn and grow. Don’t rob yourself of that chance. Go out on that limb. Maybe you’ll regret it in the moment, but chances are, you won’t regret it forever.

Written by Catherine

Image credits: Header image, Ms. Frizzle

The Unnatural Nature of Thanksgiving

At the time when the fates delegated the Thanksgiving blog to me, I wasn’t in a very thankful state of mind. That’s how I ended up writing this blog during a MRI. Of course, I wasn’t actually typing it out, because giant magnets and computers go together about as well as red wine and wedding dresses, but I had a whole lot of time to get my thoughts together.

Imagine going to a dubstep concert where the DJ has no idea what he’s doing. Now imagine that you’re attending that concert inside of a coffin. There is an IV dangling from your arm, and if you move, you have to start the whole experience over again. To top it off, suppose that you have a hatred of needles (due to a bad incident involving a venomous spider and a Daffy Duck shaped hole punch) and no one warned you about the intrusive IV. Now you’ve got a pretty good idea of where I was at.

Thankfulness doesn’t come naturally. If you don’t believe me, check out the first few chapters of Genesis. Adam and Eve didn’t verbally express their thanks to Creator God, and their actions certainly didn’t reflect any kind of thanksgiving.  A thankful heart comes only by choice. It’s wrapped up in our free will. There is always something to be thankful for, assuming you’re willing to acknowledge it. But I’ll warn you—it’s much easier to find all the things you’re not so thankful for.

That’s exactly what I did during the first half of my MRI. In order to distract myself from my misery, I started making a list of all the things I would rather do than be in my present situation: park in the freshman lot for the rest of my DBU career, only be allowed to listen to country music for the rest of my life, and other terrible things like that. Not surprisingly, my mood didn’t improve much, and the minutes until my scan was over didn’t tick by any faster. I wanted to feel the peace and joy that comes with a thankful heart, but I didn’t want to put in the effort to actually be grateful.

But with nothing else to do and nowhere else to go, I figured I might as well swallow my self-pity and find some things to thank God for. I started with the easy stuff.

“Thank you God for not letting me pass out when they put that stupid needle in my arm.”

“Thank you for parents who love me and pay for my medical bills instead of making me take a second job at Taco Bell.”

But as I progressed, it became easier and easier for me to lay claim to my bountiful blessings.

“Thank you for giving me a little brother who is bright, funny, and a joy to watch grow up.”

“Thank you for bringing me to a university that puts your glory above everything else.”

“Thank you for my sweet boyfriend waiting for me in the lobby.”

“Thank you for a job that allows me to minister through my talents.”

I thanked the Lord for everything from cute nail polish to the gift of salvation. My situation didn’t change a bit, but I was no longer drowning in self-pity and negativity. The idea that thankfulness can transform the outlook of a grim situation is not a feel-good lie from the big wigs of Christianity; it works.

Everybody likes to pretend like they actually use the Thanksgiving holiday to count their blessings. But if we’re honest, other than saying grace at the family meal, few of us take the time to list the scores of people and things we are thankful for because gratitude is not voluntary. Thankfulness won’t come to you on its own; you must intentionally go out and get it.  Whether this holiday season is the best you’ve ever had or the worst you can possibly imagine, I urge you to find the positives in your life and thank the One who gave them to you.

If you find it difficult to get started, don’t sweat it. You’re going up against your natural tendency toward ingratitude. Thanklessness is natural; thankfulness is hard.  Push on anyway. I promise you’ll thank me later.

Written by Savanna

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To the Highly Esteemed Mother

My mom is the best, and I will brag about her as often as I’m sure she brags about her kids. (If you’re reading this, Mom, ignore that last sentence and just put in something about “I love you very much.”) I’ve never known a human being who was wiser, more sacrificial, or more loving than my mother. I’m pretty sure there isn’t one. Even with eight children to care for, Mom does her best to treat each of us as individuals in quiet ways, such as making our birthdays extra special or letting us take turns picking a special cereal for the week. She shows loving patience every day as a mother and a wife. If I can someday be half as amazing as she is, I will be happy.

Sometimes, I wonder how she does it. Where does she find the strength to move forward even when the baby has been awake for most of the night and the big kids need to do schoolwork the next day?

I don’t know where my mom gets her strength because I’ve never asked. Perhaps I should, one of these days. What I do know, however, is that when the Bible speaks of mothers, it is almost always in a positive way. The light of God shines upon the position of motherhood. I’m very aware that no mom is perfect, and some moms seem to be the complete opposite of what we would call a “good mother,” and I don’t want to overlook that in any way. However, the twisted world we live in does not change the fact that God the Father has a special job for mothers. Case in point: Lois and Eunice.

“Who in the world are you talking about?” you may find yourself asking, as well you might. Lois and Eunice are granted only one verse in 2 Timothy 1:5, which reads, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (New International Version).

I don’t know about you, but if I knew I was going to be mentioned in a single sentence in the Bible, I would want that sentence to be like this one. The one thing these women are remembered for is passing their faith through their family down to the one Paul is writing to—Timothy, the pastor who more or less took over Paul’s ministry after his death. It couldn’t have been easy; after all, being a follower of Christ in Paul’s day was very dangerous, perhaps almost as dangerous as a hallway filled with a child’s LEGOs. Despite this challenge, the faith of Lois and Eunice may have changed the entire face of Christianity, and God thought that was cool enough to be mentioned in His Word.

Not every mother’s child, of course, will go on to such a prominent position as Timothy. However, I believe one of the greatest things my mother has done is exemplify her faith in her daily life. She has always been faithful in her duties as a wife and mother, even when she doesn’t feel like it. Now that I am grown, out of the house (for the most part) and starting my own life, I can look at her and know what a godly womanhood looks like. Regardless of how she does it, it is the mother’s job to impart her faith upon her children for them to discover for themselves, thus opening the door for countless others to hear the Gospel.

So thanks, Mom, not just for making sure I survived childhood, but also for giving me something to shoot for in terms of my spiritual life. Your job is hard sometimes, and even knowing that you’re doing the right thing might sometimes not be a lot of encouragement, but I appreciate it. You’ve given up a lot for me and for all the other kids, but in so doing, you’ve showed us how to give our all for those we love. From diapers to dorm rooms, you’ve been there for me, exemplifying the love of Christ every step of the way.

From all of us at the UWC, thank you to moms everywhere. We wouldn’t be who we are today without you. We love you!

Written by Catherine

Image credit: http://image.naldzgraphics.net/2013/04/26-hug-mother-child-pohotogprahy.jpg