Wednesday, April 6, 2011


 I once had a friend who told me that cardigans were my trademark.  Not my strawberry-red hair, my very pale skin, the way I laugh, or a repeated phrase I use- but cardigans.  Before I had time to question if he thought I dressed like an uptight librarian, I took it as a compliment.

You see there is a man that I truly believe may be the greatest American hero.  In fact, during my junior year of high school, for a history assignment, I called him just that.  While students around me debated between Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln, I closed my history book and delved a little deeper.  In the background, silly girls debated if they could convince the class that a musician or actor could be crowned such a title.  I had a hard time believing any celebrity could really be given such a valiant honor.  And as I sat there a little longer, it came to me.  Mr. Rogers, everyone’s friendly neighbor, was truly the greatest American Hero.

Now before you go thinking that I spent a little too much time in front of the television as a child or that Mr. Rogers doesn’t fit the quintessential mold of a hero, hear me out.  I believe that he was more than a man that appeared on our screens every morning, meant to distract children and allow mothers to sneak away for a quiet cup of coffee.  Here was a man, who dedicated his life to instilling love and worth in the lives of little children.  His goal was to not only show us how to love one another, but most importantly how to love ourselves.  If I could have known at the age of five, the battle I would face in loving myself, I would have been taking notes.  He once stated that his entire goal in broadcasting was for the viewer to know that, “you are an important person just the way you are.”  What a mantra for such a young target audience.

I remember watching “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood” as a child and while it wasn’t my favorite, I know I enjoyed it.  Something about it I found comforting, much like resting my head on a cool pillowcase before falling asleep.  Here was a man, a very simple man, who had no interest in being flashy or famous.  He wanted no business in bombarding his audience with typical media messages.  Messages that at a very young age begin to tell us of what we are lacking or what we desperately need in order to be of value.  Mr. Rogers’ messages were quite the contrary.  He whispered through our television screens, and reminded us time and time again, that we are special just the way we are.  He literally embodied the unconditional love of Christ in his mission to build healthy self-esteems in America’s youth.

Later on in life, after my high school report had been turned in and graded, my respect for Mr. Rogers crept on.  I began to learn more about his life outside of television.  I read books and interviews and discovered that who he was on camera was just a small glimpse of the greatness he was off camera.  I learned of a man, who found value in every interaction he ever had.  He did more than just exchange pleasantries to his fans and friends.  He invested in the lives of others.

Mr. Rogers was best friends with a man named Henri Nouwen. He was a man who was an internationally renowned professor and beloved pastor, who wrote over 40 books on the spiritual life and dedicated his life to serving the social outcasts and underprivileged. Nouwen was a very great man, to say the least.  But if you should know one thing about Henri Nouwen for the sake of his friendship with Mr. Rogers it is this: Nouwen was a man who felt very alone, who struggled with his identity, and often found that his greatest challenge was loving himself and believing that God loved him. 

I don’t find it ironic that God placed these two together as kindred spirits.  Henri was a man who needed to know of his worth and Fred was the man, whom God knew would know just how to speak value into his heart.  I imagine there times together, hunched over tables, holding napkins of spilled tears, praying together and reminding each other that in Christ they are so dearly and completely loved.

The scriptures are filled with the promises that God loves us.  And not only does He love us but He loves us without us having to do a single thing.  We don’t have to tap dance our way into His heart or spill a cup of coffee to grab His attention.  He simply loves us.  In Psalm 117:2 it says, “For great is His love towards us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.” 

There’s no catch.  He just has love and when He looks at us, we are worthy of His love just as is.  I don’t need a nose job, a Bentley, a well stocked fridge, or a clean bathroom sink.  I can wake up, decide not to make the bed and great is His love towards me.  Towards you.

The hard part is that sometimes it is impossible to see.  We look around us and in a life and in a world that demands more and more of us-we can’t possibly believe that His love for us endures forever.  But I have to believe that our God cloaks us in cardigans.  He shields our bare shoulders and with His hands, He fastens each button, speaking the truth of how vast and how high, how rich and how deep His love for us is.

When I say that having a cardigan trademark is a compliment, I mean that I hope in some way I resemble Mr. Rogers, the way in which he resembles Christ.  With each sleeve, he was a man who taught me more about grace.  In looking at his life, I wonder if each day, while changing into his cardigan, he was preparing for battle.  As he zipped into the knitted yarns of his sweater, he raised up the shield of Christ.  Through every interaction, he fought against the devil’s schemes and abolished the lies we so often believe.  The lies that tell us we aren’t lovable, desirable, or precious.  And in the comfort of his cardigan, he extended to us the truth that we are special just the way we are.

In looking at my closet I can see why that old friend believed it to be my trademark.  It certainly is my wardrobe staple.  But these days, it’s more than just a layer of clothing.  I strap on a cardigan every day, much like a bulletproof vest, to defend myself from the mixed messages I receive about not being enough.  I button it to remind myself that He loves me just the way I am, and I hope and pray that there are moments where God can use me to extend it around the shoulders of a stranger or a friend, who is hunched over a table, clenching a napkin filled with spilled tears- to whisper the truth of how greatly they are loved, just the way they are.  

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Keep Us

If you’ve been a bride, a bridesmaid, known a bride, or simply don’t live under a rock you are aware that planning a wedding is difficult work.  There are details after details to be attended to, decisions to be made about food and flowers, and the ultimate task of choosing what to wear, among many other things.  Will we sip champagne, should we hire a band, will the reception be lively enough to keep the guests dancing all night long?  Decisions, choices, and demanding details all run their course as plans for the big day unravel.

When Nate and I began planning our wedding we knew we wanted to dance under the stars and for our closest friends and family to celebrate with us.  We looked forward to a reception filled with sweet laughter and soft candlelight.  But, our main concern was the words we spoke before the celebration.  For us, our ceremony was what was most important.  Of course we wanted a lively reception and a chance to share with our guests the moments of our day- but before the celebration we wanted our hearts to be heard in our ceremony.

The ceremony was our chance to come together, as a couple, and not only commit our lives and love to each other, but devote our relationship and marriage to God.  The vows we spoke softly to each other were also offered to Christ.  As important as it was for each of us to become husband and wife, we had a greater desire to come together, as two instead of one, and offer our marriage to the Lord, in hopes that the sum of our parts would be greater than what either of us would ever have to offer on our own. 

After exchanging rings and speaking words of promise to each other, we wanted our first few moments of married life to be spent in communion.  As we broke bread and drank wine, as symbols of Christ dying on the cross for our sins, we had our dear friend, Alex, sing a beautiful song. 

We chose a song with lyrics that are a prayer.  Nate and I saw this song as a prayer we so desperately wanted the Lord to hear, from our hearts.  The song is called, “Keep Us.”   It is a prayer asking God to keep us from the storm.  That when the rains set in, when the world turns upside down, when the ground shakes, and when we’ve had enough- keep us.  It speaks of two lovers, lying hand in hand, as the world outside rages and they ask that in the safety of their home, that they are kept.

To us, it wasn’t a prayer asking God to keep us from harm, but a prayer that pleaded that when the storms arise, as they certainly will, that in the midst of the struggle, that He would keep us.  Keep us together, hand in hand, and keep us safe, in His arms.

In the bible it says, “You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat…” Isaiah 25:4

The Lord is a refuge and a shelter.  When we are poor, needy, broken down, and in severe need of shelter-He is there.  When we feel beaten down and scorched by the sun, He is our shade.  We can retreat to Him and He will “keep us” from being overtaken.

When Nate and I got engaged, after only 6 months of dating, many people questioned us if it was too soon.  But, the people who knew us and who had traveled our journey alongside of us, knew that we had already weathered all the seasons.  We had already encountered storm after storm and surely did not have our head in the clouds about a “happily ever after.”  We already knew of the wind and rain and had prematurely had the chance to stand together in the storms.

Our wedding was my most favorite day.  I found the perfect dress, decided on simple music, fresh flowers, and to sip on sweet champagne.  It was filled with love and hope.  We celebrated being man and wife with all the ones we love most and most importantly committed that our lifetime of marriage would be spent serving God.  On that day, during the most precious moments of our ceremony  and for every day after, it has been our prayer that the Lord would keep us.  No matter what waters rise and rivers overflow that He would hold us and keep us within His grip.  We know that there will be times of pain and times where our own legs shake beneath us, but God is our shelter and our refuge, and He will grasp onto us in His love and hold us steady.

My prayer for you is this:  Wherever you are; if you hear the thunders roll or if you’re looking dead on into the eye of the storm, remember that He has promised to be your refuge and ever-present shelter.  The world may turn wrong, but in the safety of your Home with Him, you will be kept.

These days, while Nate and I lay in bed, the rain seems to be relentless right outside our windows.  And often times we find ourselves thinking that perhaps we’ve had enough.  But, as the waters rise, we lie hand in hand, and whisper a song that He would keep us. 

To hear “Keep Us” click here.

Friday, April 1, 2011

He Fights For Me

When I was younger, the evidence needed to determine what kind of night’s sleep I had was in the sheets.  If the sheets lay flat, it was probably an indication of a good night’s rest.  Yet, if blankets had fallen to the floor and my sheets had come un-tucked, it was a good sign that my night was filled with nightmares or wild, crazy dreams.  Making my bed was always more difficult if the sheets and blankets had been strewn around the room and as a little girl, after an eventful night’s sleep, I would often ask for my mom’s help in putting my bed back together.  As we re-tucked, pulled, huffed, and puffed my mom would always ask me if my night had included wrestling a bear.

Some nights, when my dreams leave me twisted and tangled, I wake up feeling tired.  My mind is racing and it seems as if my time to rest has been interrupted by a host of snarled dreams.  Instead of feeling refreshed and ready to face a brand new day, I have prematurely face planted before even placing my feet on the ground. 

During some seasons in life, we feel the same way.  Twisted, tired, and tangled among our circumstances.  There are times where we feel conquered.  We drag our bodies round and round, clench our jaws in frustration, and brace ourselves for impact around ever corner.  With no warning at all, our covers are stripped from our bodies and we lay cold and exhausted.  We try to run, to stand up and fight, but just like in our dreams, our movements are played out in dramatically slow motion.

Our natural instinct in times of distress is to rise up and fight.  We keep pushing and straining ahead.  If we can only just move forward- the key is to keep moving.  In the madness of the world, in our disappointments, tragedies, and fears we crawl uphill.  In the rain, we carry heavy wet blankets of our pain, sorrow, and strife.  We tell ourselves that if only we can keep moving, then we will be okay.  As long as we toss and turn in our sheets, the battle continues and we are not knocked down and destroyed.

But, only for so long can we continue.  Soon we are too tired from wrestling the the bears and utterly exhausted from the wet blankets on our backs.  The last thing we think we can do is rest.  Yet, this is just what He calls us to do.

One of my favorite verses in the bible is a promise found in Exodus 14:14.  It says, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Still.  I only have to lay still.  In this scripture we are promised that He will fight for us.  His strength will save us.  We can give him our heartaches, transfer our worries to him, and lay flat as He continues the fight.

I find that to be such sweet relief.  I can unravel the sheets from my ankles, drop the heavy, wet blankets from my back and I can rest.  Not only do we not have to face the torments of life alone- but also He takes up our battle.  It’s no longer a dreadful diagnosis of cancer that we must bare or the untimely death of a loved one that we must survive.  Instead, we can be still and He will surround us in His love, compassion, peace, and comfort and He will fight for us because He knows it is too much for us to handle. 

In being still, there is no more waking up in cold sweats from nightmares.  Wrestling bears is a thing of our past.  Our beds have been re-made with fresh sheets and properly placed comforters.  We lay still as the Lord tucks us in and takes on our battles.  And while I rest, close my eyes, and crawl underneath my cool covers- He fights for me.