Writing love letters to God

Writers are like Cupids of the English language. We find two words, say hey you guys should meet, and hitch them together in a sentence. This matchmaking is an art all its own.

But nobody can write like God himself. I usually write my conversations with Him down because I’m a forgetful girl and I like to return to my journal over and over to see what Amy of the past has conquered. 

Re-reading through prayers this summer reminded me of God’s sweetness. He is so gentle and loving, and the more I poured over his words to me, the more compelled I felt to share them.

So this is the first of a series of blog posts dedicated to love letters between God and I.

April 21st

Amy, I will fiercely protect you all the days of your life.

I am the keeper of your heart and I will not let you go to just anybody.

I am your redeemer and your salvation.

I belong to you just as you belong to me. I. Love. You. Dearly.

When your soul feels weary or restless, look upon my cross and find your peace at the foot of my immense love for you. When your knees meet the ground and you pour out your heart to me, I am most delighted in you. Keep me by your side, talk to me as you go through each day, and realize that I am constantly working all things together for your good. Allow me to be at the forefront of your mind and all your troubled thoughts will become mine. I am strong enough to carry the weight of this world on my shoulders but you are not. Don’t take on too much.

I am here and I am your champion. Walk humbly with me today but walk boldly too, believing I am Yahweh who will defend you to the end. Beloved I am here.

-Jesus.

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February 14th

On February 14th, I started a new journal. It began with a love letter to God and as I read it this morning, I fell for him once more. Without him, I drift. With him, every day is a reason to fill pages with words like these.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son…

Whispers of you are all around – the snow falling softly, softly, softly to the ground. Laughter in a dorm room with bad 90’s pop, markers, and construction paper. Text messages that whoosh off into the stratosphere saying things like there is grace, thank you and how’s life. And somewhere, amid all this noise, sits you. Your touch is gentle as ever and your spirit mildly sweet, kind – patient. Thank you, Jesus, for waiting on my fickle heart.

Thank you for knowing my soul and for carrying it in your pockets, sheltering it from the lies of a broken world and the judgment of my own thoughts. Thank you, Abba, Father, for  blessing me with a moment like this on a cold winter night – time spent next to you, conversing as friends, imagining the warmth of your smile and the depth of your laugh – sonorous, rich, from the belly.

God, I have failed miserably to adore you this week. Yet I find myself grounded in your peace and captivated by your love. I am revived by seconds, minutes, hours spent in your company and I offer my heart to you afresh now, realizing my distractions have been many over the past few days.

You, first love, have cherished me from afar and you sweep in now with all the freshness and hospitality of a warm spring rain. Alongside you, I am strong again. Confident again. Selfless again. You are an old friend, my funny valentine, that I can steal away with always. You see the crumbly corners of me and hand me inspiration, truth, and faith – that is the stuff of Jesus glue, putting me back together.

Praise be to you Jesus for patiently sitting, waiting, wishing. My heart needs you, yearns for you…you say, it’s alright, I am here. Regardless of your affection, I will be here. So turn your eyes from the horizontal, from the wild future you want to plan, from all around you, and look up, up, up. Search for my smiling face high up in the sky, filling the heavens with light. You are a child of mine and I love you oh so much. Enough to give my son.

Oh beautiful savior what can I give you in return?

Just yourself, beloved. You are worthy. Because I say so.

If there can be Christmas in July, then there can be Valentine’s Day in August.

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Free fallin the right way

It’s no secret that I am a certified bookworm – like, the kind of bookworm that highlights passages of Fitzgerald in bright pink and memorizes Pride & Prejudice. I pay homage to the literary greats by seeping up their words, and yet there are some words, specifically God’s, that I struggle to highlight…pieces of one book in particular that sucker punch me right in the gut.

The Bible is God’s love letter to me – and I hope that you, whether now or years later, read it as his love letter to you, too.

But like all good romances, Jesus and I have had rough patches. I spent time this week reading through my old prayer journals and needless to say, he has been far more gracious to me than I deserve.

This post is one I’ve hesitated to write because, well…it’s born of my own disobedience. I’m writing it anyway, though, because I know it’s needed. How? I searched for posts like these when I wanted validation and assurance that I wasn’t alone in my pursuit of relationships with nonChristians.

If you’ve ever worn my shoes – especially if you’re still wearing them – the idea of dating a nonChristian (and being called out on it) makes your stomach drop. It has to.

I cannot tell you how frantically I scoured the Bible hoping that somewhere, I’d come across Jesus saying sweet children, go for it. You choose whoever makes you feel warm inside because you’ll be the one to change them. You’ll conquer their unbelief and I’ll help you do it.

Oh the audacity of me. I don’t tell God I’m going to change people. He inevitably face-palms and changes me. Because let’s be honest here, he’s God. He can do whatever he wants, any way he sees fit. And he does not need me to accomplish his plans.

The reality is, dear friends, if we are Christians desiring a fulfilling relationship with Jesus, chasing after a relationship with a nonChristian will distract, break, distance and confuse us. I have tried it – twice. I did not learn from my mistakes the first time around and (very, very stubbornly) went for round 2. Fortunately, God taught me a whole lot – he spoke loudly and clearly into my heart and he continues to heal me from the hurts I endured.

You are welcome to interject here. You are welcome to shout at me from behind your computer screen and say yeah Amy, that’s you. You screwed it up, but my story is different. I’m actually pretty darn good at the love thing and this is all a part of God’s plan.

Here’s what I’ve discovered:

I was so jealous of beautiful loves when I dated outside of God’s best for me. My heart was desperate for a pure, sacrificial, selfless love – an earthly version of what Jesus felt for me as he hung on that cross.

And the reality is that any nonChristian will never quite understand the cross or its significance, will never quite say the right words or meet your expectations because you. were. made. for. more.

If any piece of you – no matter how small – believes that to be true tonight, I’m praying for you. I’m praying that you’ll be brave enough to stand up and sever unhealthy ties. I’m praying that you’ll choose singleness over brokenness. It might sting now but chances are it’ll wound you later. I know it isn’t easy.

I know you’ll have to wrestle and you may cry a lot of ugly tears.

I also know that such a weight was lifted from my shoulders when I walked away from the messes I created. When I surrendered my love life to God and said please have your way, I found freedom. And as I creeped on friends’ wedding photos, freedom is what I always noticed radiating from each bride’s face. Those women, satisfied in their relationship with the Lord and consequently satisfied in their relationships with new husbands, smiled truly content smiles.

Don’t be afraid, either, of what the world might say. I have met so many lovely girls with the same story as me. We have an instant connection in our vulnerability. We can readily admit how embarrassed and humiliated we felt telling Jesus that we thought we knew better than him. We can also share in one another’s joy as we talk about how Jesus said don’t you worry about a thing, darling. I love you more so now than ever before.

Why am I able to blurt all this out into cyberspace now? Because I’m currently falling in love with God’s best for me. I finally can join the ranks of Christian girls on fire for Jesus and dating the real deal. My real deal is named Matt and he sends me texts like this: “God said to tell his beautiful daughter hi and remind her that she’s my beloved.” Does that not make your breath catch? How sweet is he?

Praise God for opening my eyes to the flaws in my past relationships and enabling me to be loved by someone who loves him first. Do not settle. Joy comes in the morning – my soul knows it full well.

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this little light of mine

Life, she runs. She runs hard and fast and she takes our breath away. Sometimes, this life, she falls. She bleeds and she cries out surely there is more.

I think today that life is looking for her saving grace because she sees children dying and countries fighting, mothers weeping and fathers lying.

Little pieces of tragedy flit across our screens daily – body counts and impending crises stacking up like dirty dishes. And the thing about dirty dishes is we’re good at ignoring them. Perhaps we are in danger of growing desensitized to the mass hurt afflicting our world. Because, if we’re honest, life is uncontrollable and it’s easier to find a friend on the sidelines than to lead the charge on the front-lines.

I am not suggesting that you and I are capable of fixing this bruised place we call earth. Fortunately we are unequipped to play savior.

Neither am I suggesting that we are to blame for Hamas, Ukraine, missing flights or the neighbors’ divorce. 

The pain in breaking stories does not emerge overnight. Pain begins as a small pang somewhere deep inside – an indignation or an insult, a rejection or an unhealthy relationship. Pain finds company and flourishes alongside other hurts and it becomes this animal of overwhelming proportions.

What if, instead of feeling oppressed by heavy headlines, we found a way of looking that animal in the face, saying we are not afraid and we will not be moved.

Instead of scraping ourselves on the grit of self-loathing, what if we made an active decision to wake up each morning committed to something greater?

See, we are not called to be the light of the world. We are simply called to shine and to shine on his behalf. We are welcomed into his starry nights, invited to glow because in his sight, we. are. good. When we clothe ourselves in humility, we are filled with his deep love for people – an all consuming fire that burns brighter and longer than any other antidote this world might offer.

I cannot hold the hands of Palestinian children who smiled at me or grieve beside those whose families are victims of other peoples’ sins. But I can pray break my heart for what breaks yours. I can choose hope.

He promises peace and healing and I am forever thankful in return.

“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness?” Matthew 5:13 (the MSG)

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The art of letting go

When life speaks to a dormant place inside you, you better listen. When your heart begins unfurling and inspiration starts knocking like the most incessant little woodpecker that ever was, you better muster all the gumption you possess and prepare for a journey.

Sometimes I think we ignore these journeys because of all we’re afraid to leave behind – familiar roads, favourite corners in favourite coffee shops. People whose hearts we have translated, homes whose kitchen contents we have memorized. But the epitome of belonging is not whether or not we know where friends keep their mugs. The epitome of belonging is being so at peace with ourselves that we can uproot and replant wherever God calls, whenever he calls us.

I thought about this on a recent flight.  Flying in general has never worried me. I’ve always had this inexplicable, childlike faith in a plane’s capacity to stay airborne and carry me safely on. Take off fascinates me, because as I lose complete control and entrust my life into someone else’s hands, I can feel myself soaring towards the stars and up there, amid clouds and constellations, I am brave – braver than when I am on the ground. Sharing God’s view of the world reminds me of how small Amy Bareham and her problems actually are. Landing though, landing is difficult. What is it about descending that makes our palms clammy and our stomachs drop? Maybe we’re itching for the idea of adventure, instead of adventure itself. Journeys are full of mixed cds with summer hits from 9th grade. Journeys involve fast food indulgence and sunglasses that make you feel a little bit like Audrey Hepburn. And journeys come with directions and maps – instruction manuals that compliment the wind in your hair and the sun on your skin.

Standing at the precipice of new chapters is never easy because we arrive at Point B with fistfuls of baggage from Point A. Back on the ground again looking our new destination in the eye, I think our minds flash back to all the old nouns…the ones we couldn’t fit in our suitcases. What God has been saying to me lately is that my luggage quota is limited for a reason. Before heading for the UK as a girl, I’d cram stuffed animals into my backpack until we left the house. My mum would come alongside and force some beloved bear out, reminding me to leave room for what I’d be given. Not much has changed. When I stand before him with my hands firmly grasping everything I could have left behind, I cannot possibly receive everything that lies before me.

What a relief it is to have a co-pilot. Our traveling companion is the one who hung each star in its place. We may find Point B feeling disheveled and exhausted, but God satisfies us and is continuously producing new directions. In the event that we make a U-turn, he will recalculate. If we make a wrong turn, he will reroute. I sat down with God a few nights ago wanting to throw off all that hinders, asking to link arms with adventure and laugh without fear of the future. God whispered,  you don’t have to know all the answers. You don’t have to get it right the first time. And you certainly don’t have to live in the shadow of days long gone, days when your edges weren’t as soft and your heart not as free. I am here to fill the void. No matter how much you let go, I will satisfy. 

I want to be the kind of girl that touches down and says let’s do this thing. Let’s draw new pictures with different colours and maybe, just maybe, come up with something good enough to hang on the refrigerator door. I want to live not hand to mouth, but hand in hand with a God who is in the business of writing bestsellers. Amy Bareham Fully Surrendered: coming to a bookshelf near you.

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Tales from a Holy Land Wanderer

I hated myself for the first time when I was about ten.

I’d gotten that rush, the one that comes when you make the best discovery ever. Three bird’s eggs were huddled together in a nest up high, shiny and new little lives waiting on their grand entrance into the world. I decided I was going to raise those birds – teach them how to fly because I myself wanted to soar.  Wrenching the nest free from its hiding place, I lost my balance. My heart crumbled as three eggs sailed through the air and shattered on gray pavement. I bent down, frantically picking up pieces of shell until I saw tiny wings forever broken and blood on my hands.

When people ask about my recent trip to Israel-Palestine, I feel an anxiety I can’t quite explain. The best I can do is point to this day and remember how it felt to encounter the fragility of life. I found beauty in its purest, untainted form and I ruined it. I would feel so angry with myself if I misrepresented the Holy Land’s story and ruined it for you. Instead of trying to summarize the place, I will simply tell you to go. Go taste the conflict and the sacredness of its olive branches.

I can however, share more of my story and the lessons the Holy Land gave me – in fact I think the most important part of any adventure is the return, because we never come back quite the same.

Someone once told me, “Do not despise the day of small beginnings.” Those words nuzzled their way into my heart nearly a year ago, when I still thought Israel and Palestine were two countries marked by nondescript blobs on a map. Now, fresh from the Holy Land and forever a hummus snob, I have to wonder if those words were meant for a time such as this, a time when I want to be a politician, an activist, a preacher and a hell raiser . But when I listen between and beneath the lines, I realize that humanity needs a far greater love than the one I have to offer.

Israel-Palestine made it quite clear that if we put our faith in ourselves, we will always be rendered ineffective. Israel-Palestine also said that if we live in fear, we will be equally ineffective. Fear is simply an absence of courage. So I ask you, in the midst of whatever path you find yourself walking, to be courageous. Be courageous enough to change lanes, run faster, enjoy the ride, or maybe switch paths altogether.

Don’t be afraid to turn around and walk back home. Failure can mean many things but it does not mean game over. I have watched dear Palestinian children play in the streets – they are proof that our biggest failures can equate to different, unexpected shades of joy.

Perhaps my favourite Holy Land lesson comes from Luke 2:19: “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (ESV). Mary was a ponderer. She wondered and marveled. So if you’ve got a few minutes to spare, ponder at these photos and their accompanying stories. This is me, giving you a piece of Israel-Palestine. I hope that you’ll go and find your own pieces some day.

 

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I present you with Ibrahim: the sassiest Palestinian Christian Israeli resident you may ever meet. He frequently lamented at our slow walking, saying, “Keep up, otherwise we’ll have to run where Jesus walked.” I stayed with him for awhile as we took in this section of the separation wall. I asked him if he could paint anything on it, what it would be. He laughed and said, “A bomb.” Then he realized, I think, the gravity of such a statement and shook his head solmenly. “No. There’s a picture of a man standing on the top rung of a ladder. The other rungs aren’t there, he has them in his hand. You have to build your way out of the messes you create.”

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My teammate, Dustin, took this shot of Israel Defense Force (IDF) soldiers. Father Elias Chacour, a recently retired archbishop, commented, “We don’t teach the conflict; we live the conflict.”

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The day I took these photos, we met with Wi’am, a conflict resolution group. Zoughbi Zoughbi, our speaker, said something I just love: “We don’t want to be political animals, rather social butterflies.” These children are the social butterflies, they are brave and strong in ways we should commend and I hope that they find peace in their hearts, whether or not peace comes to their land. They peeked out from behind doors, studied our cameras, and crawled into windowsills – all to be noticed by us, strangers with no answers or gifts, only smiles. But a smile can be shared. A smile means I accept you.

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This is Carol. Wonderful, Australian, lived in the same English town as me, Carol. One of the books I read pre-Holy Land trip talked about forests of peacemakers. About planting seeds and gathering a harvest of hope. Carol is a nurse in Aussie country most of the time, but she offers up six weeks of her year to protect marginalized Palestinians. She said we all have compulsions. We see a fellow human being knocked down and we either want to help him up or keep him down. Whatever our compulsions may be, we should continuously make them more like those of Jesus who did justice, loved mercy, and walked humbly with God.

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“Would you dirty your hands to cleanse the reputation of the poor? Don’t try to create heaven in hell. It’s impossible. Go slowly, stone by stone. We don’t need to learn how to live together – we need a longer memory to remember how we used to live together.” (Father Elias Chacour)

 

image3Those little birds I found never had the chance to fly. I think I owe it to them to soar on their behalf – to experience life with eyes open, spirit aware. I have no idea how God intends to use this trip in my life, but for now, I won’t despise the day of small beginnings. He’s up to something.

 

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A new kind of sacred

This afternoon, we drove through East Jerusalem – the complicated part where sidewalks end suddenly, Shel Silverstein style. Where rich consults inhabit apartment buildings mere blocks away from the unkempt homes of alienated refugees. The separation wall cuts through it all, a knife decorated with the dizzying art of the voiceless.

Mohammed, our godsend of a bus driver, got us high up in the midst of this settlement and as he did a killer three point turn, one piece of graffiti shouted out. It was no Banksy, just black spray paint in a slanted hand, but its message touched me somewhere deep, somewhere raw. The dirt whispers I’m coming home.

The dirt, the soil of the Holy Land, is alive with courage. It is stirring and I am thankful for its movement. So thankful.

Our trip has been a pilgrimage of sorts and intermingling with peacemakers’ reflections are the sites we’ve toured. The manger, the Mount of Temptation, Capernaum, Joseph’s carpentry shop: these scenes of Biblical profundity actually made me cringe. They have been underwhelming, almost marring my imagination’s ideas of Biblical times.

I am grateful that God is not contained in artificial recreations of the nativity. I am grateful that his voice echoes throughout all creation, not just in solemn shrines where incense burns. I respect the sanctity of the sites but my heart has found joy through encounters with God’s children. I have felt most fulfilled watching God reveal himself through the personal histories of the oppressed. In each cup of Arabic coffee has been the selflessness of Jesus. In every vulnerable insight has been a glimmer of his wisdom.

This Holy Land cast of characters is realer to me than Zacchaeus in his sycamore tree, which now stands at the end of a row of tired souvenir shops. Have we come to idolize the pilgrimage spots, worshipping them out of religious duty instead of walking a faith filled journey inspired by the stories’ heroes?

The only site where I truly saw God unadulterated and pure was the Sea of Galilee. Floating on still waters, observed only by the rambling hills, God was clearly engrained in the land. For one cherished moment, everything was quiet and I felt him. And then music started to play and our Israeli boat crew tugged at my hands and taught us to dance. So we sailed back to the harbor laughing and singing and dancing.

It was a new kind of sacred, a kind formed by community.

Tonight, during our team debrief, Will White commented so astutely:”It says something about humanity that the holiest place on earth is the most messed up.”

Maybe anger boiled within me at the other sites because each gilded chair and bronze statue seemed like a mockery of God. But who can blame the masses for clamoring and becoming intoxicated with the past when the present is tumultuous?

Is really seeing the Holy Land with its bruises and dividing walls too painful? Quite possibly.

I am definitely ready to rest my eyes. I’ll rest them but not close them. The dirt whispers I’m coming home, and I want to be there celebrating when peace rains down again. Continue reading

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