Dear Middle Schooler,

Dearest, I know you’re under a lot of pressure right now. I know what they’re telling you to be. I hear you as you’re stressed out about trying to be pretty enough, trying to fit in, trying to find someone to love you, and trying to balance your friends, school, and your weird family. You’ve got pressures coming at you from all sides, and I know you’re struggling.

You’ve just hit “the awkward stage” so nothing seems to come out right or look right and you’re still trying to figure yourself out, but it’s hard because everything is changing so fast. Sometimes you think you’ve got it all together and figured out, but then you feel like everything is falling apart.

I hear you talking in the backseat of my car, “Oh my word, I am so dumb.” “I can’t believe I said that. I am so stupid.” “Will it make me prettier? I’m already ugly enough.” “I can’t have anymore. I am too fat.”

Darling, my heart is breaking for you. This is not who you are.

I’m going to tell you a secret – you will always struggle with these things.

Yes, you learn that maybe curls are not a good idea or that you really shouldn’t wear those pants. You learn how to hide the pimples and cover up the crooked tooth when you smile. You learn how to pretend like you’re balancing all the relationships in your life. You learn how to flirt without falling over (maybe). The mood swings get a little better. You learn to blame sadness on Dementors so you have an excuse to eat more chocolate. But unless you change the things you claim about yourself, you will always feel a little ugly, a little too fat, a little stupid, a little lonely.

Everything is awkward right now, but everything about you is also so very good. You, my darling, have bad moments, but that never takes away from the fact that, at the very core, you are made up entirely of good things. I was blessed with amazing parents who taught me these things, but I don’t see this in your life, so sit down and prepare for a lecture of the most loving sort. Because you, my sweet human, are worth this and so much more.

Ahem. Are you paying attention?

Write these words on your heart. Soak them in and let them change how you see yourself, how you talk about yourself, and how you see others.

You are good things. You have bad moments.

You are good things. You feel bad things.

You are smart, but sometimes you have dumb moments. And that’s okay. It’s okay to have dumb moments. You can’t always be the smartest person in the room or have all the answers. You’re not always going to be smart in the same way other people are. But that moment is temporary. When it comes back down to it, and you’re back in your element, at the core of who you are, you are smart.

You are beautiful, but sometimes you feel ugly. And that’s okay. It’s okay to feel ugly. Feeling is honest. You feel the way you do and there’s nothing wrong with that. But feelings are also temporary. When it comes back down to it, once the feeling is gone, at the core of who you are, you are beautiful.

You are a mountain of good things. You were created with loving care by a Creator who never makes mistakes. He formed your body, your heart, your brain, and He made every inch of you immensely precious and wonderful. You, precious one, are His loving creation. You are created by The Artist. You are covered in His fingerprints, surrounded by His love, and cherished beyond measure.

It’s okay to have bad moments and bad feelings, as long as that’s all the are. The way you feel is the way you feel. It’s honest. If you feel angry, feel angry. But don’t let it become who you are. If you feel fat, feel fat. But don’t buy into the lie that you are fat. If you feel ugly, feel ugly. But when the feeling passes, remember that you are a priceless, handmade, glorious piece of art.

It’s completely okay to feel things. It’s not okay to become them.

Next time you’re in the backseat of my car, I want to hear, “Oh my word, I feel so dumb.” “I can’t believe I said that. I feel so stupid.” “Will it make me prettier? I feel ugly right now.” “I can’t have anymore. I feel too fat.”

I’m okay with those things. My heart will still break for the frequency with which those words come out of your mouth, but I know that, as you grow more comfortable with yourself and who God made you, those feelings will be less prevalent.

Darling, at the end of the day, if you hear nothing else, know that you are loved beyond measure and you’re okay. Whatever you feel and whatever you struggle with and whatever you believe about yourself, you are okay. Hang in there. The awkward stage does end. Eventually.

Dearest middle schooler, you are good.

Thin Places

When I came to Haiti, I was expecting to see Thin Places.

Thin Places are spots where heaven is a little closer to earth.

I was expecting to see them in children’s smiles and eyes and babies’ laughter. I was expecting to find them in some great act of service that I had performed.

I am so selfish sometimes.

I haven’t found them in the children or the babies. Nothing I’ve done has brought heaven a little closer to earth for me.

In fact, I haven’t seen a single thin place since I got here.

Until tonight.

Thin places can be found in children’s eyes and babies’ laughter, but not when your heart is in the wrong place. And it definitely has been.

The only time I’ve seen a thin place all week has been in a random conversation before bed.

In talking to someone else about God, my heart was really called out.

Here I was, telling this person that God is actively seeking us all and is always willing to be found and will never abandon us or leave us hanging, and I won’t extend that same truth to someone else I know because I don’t like them.

Tonight I was reminded that God doesn’t care.

He takes us exactly as we are – with all of our faults – because He wants us desperately and passionately. He wants us badly enough to suffer the cruelest death.

I was reminded that God does not need me to decide who comes to Him.

That is not my place. He is after us all. He created us all, and He knows what He’s doing.

I cannot stand between someone and Christ because I don’t like them. I cannot decide that someone isn’t good enough for God because they’re not my friend.

Christ didn’t come to save my friends; He came to save the world. It’s time I started living like that.

Tonight heaven got a little closer to earth because, when I spoke truth to my friend, my heart was torn to shreds by the power of the very name I spoke.

Tonight, I saw God at work – not just in Haiti – but in my heart and the world.

Like vs. Love

“Like”

That middle school question – “Do you think he likes me?”

That glaring truth – “You like him! I know you do!”

That whispered secret  – “Guys, don’t you dare tell anyone, but I think I like him.”

“Love”

That vow of eternity – “I love you.”

That statement of fact – “I love you.”

That undying promise – “I love you.”

A friend of mine asked me what I thought the difference was between “like” and “love”. Honestly, I’d never even thought about it very much. I mean, I knew I “liked” Cheetos and I “loved” pie and cookies, but that was about as deep into it as I’ve ever gotten.

So, I told him I didn’t know, changed the subject, and thought about it while we talked about something else.

In the midst of a conversation about something completely unrelated, it hit – “like” is inherently selfish, “love” is always selfless.

Always.

“Like” is the thing that strikes when you first see someone and want nothing more than to get to know them better. “Like” is the feeling that sucker punches you in the stomach when she walks into a room for the first (or, if you’re pretty dense, 57th) time, and you just can’t take your eyes off her. “Like” is what you feel for that bag of chips staring at you from across the room.

“Like” is selfish because it is all about you. You want to get to know them better. You want to know if you can possibly have a future with them. You want to get information from them that will tell you if they’re compatible. You want them to like you. You want them to have a good impression of you so they’ll go out with you. You want something from them – their attention and affections.

There are a lot of people that are deeply, desperately in like. And, because the relationship is more based on what they can get out of it than how they can serve, when their needs aren’t fulfilled anymore, it’s over.

“Like” doesn’t just have to be romantic, though.

You like your friends when it’s only about what you can get from your relationship. You like that trendy organization when it’s all about how wearing their clothes makes you look. You like those kids in Africa when they make you look like an awesome, mission-minded person who’s great with kids (check out those Facebook photos, future youth minister husband!).

“Love” is something much deeper. It takes time. It is unselfish. Love is when it becomes all about them. Love is service. It usually comes slowly and softly. You know it’s love when you begin making sacrifices.

You don’t care about that annoying habit; it’s a part of who they are, and you accept that. You want to be a better person so you can make their future better. You want to know their heart because it will allow you to serve them in the ways they need. You will care for them regardless of how they feel for you. You will give up anything to be with them. And, sometimes, you will break your own heart to give them the space they need.

Love, true love, is a rare and delicate flower that needs to be protected. It’s hard. It takes a lot of work. It can get really uncomfortable. It can be painful. It’s scary. It can force you into areas that you never thought you’d be comfortable. It can make you do things that make your knees shake.

It’s so worth it. It’s so beautiful. It’s a wonderful thing to behold.

This kind of love doesn’t necessarily have to be the kind that winds up in a marriage.

It should also be true for the love between a parent and child, between close friends, between brothers and sisters in Christ, for our fellow human beings, and for anyone we have been commanded by The Lover to love.

This is the way God loves us. He sent His Son to die for us.

He created us. He knows us. He desires a relationship with us. He knows exactly what we need and how to serve us. So, because of His love, He gave us the only thing that would bring us closer to Him – a chance at life.

I’ve never been in love with someone I want to marry. Who knows, that may never happen. But because I have an intimate knowledge of the love of my God, I can love other people.

And I’m so thankful God doesn’t just “like” me.