I Can Love You Like That

Elizabeth Barrett Browning penned these immortal words many years ago:

“How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways./I love thee to the depth and breadth and height/My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight/For the ends of Being and an ideal Grace…”

It is one of her most famous poems, included in the little book published by her husband, fellow poet and the receiver of that poem — Robert Browning.  Sonnets from the Portuguese is on my bedside table with my Bible, and now and then I pick it up just to read that particular work.

Elizabeth’s love for Robert is evident throughout the entire book of sonnets, but this poem in particular is so very exacting, so specific, in what her love for him is that we can’t plead misunderstanding.  There is no mistake to be made:  Elizabeth loved Robert dearly, beyond feeling, or Being, and into the realm of the ideal Grace. 

It made me wonder what it must be like to have that kind of a love.  How wonderful it must be to have someone love you that way — and to love them in return!  How much deeper, if this love were true, would the sentiments be than the kind of false ‘adoration’ we find today.  Yet so as not to journey into discontent, I purposed to think of what this love would be like with what I already have — my God.  As I read Elizabeth’s poem with this in mind, the message became all the more clear.

“How do I love Thee?  Let me count the ways.

I love Thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

To the ends of Being an ideal Grace.

I love Thee to the level of everyday’s

Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.

I love Thee freely, as men strive for Right;

I love Thee purely, as they turn from Praise.

I love Thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.

I love Thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints — I love Thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,

I shall but love Thee better after death.

Beautiful, isn’t it?  As you read it through, think how we can love our God this way.  It is possible.  This love is a love that has taken all of life, the ‘breath, smiles, and tears’, and made them not a source of bitterness or pride, but a source of gratefulness and love.  This love is true in mundane — each “everyday’s most quiet need” — and is free, pure and passionate.  It is faithful and persevering… even unto death. 

I read once that “No love of the human heart is safe unless it is satisfied by God first.”  It’s very true.  And He can love you like that.

Speak Softly, Love

Cross Pointe Speech

Speaking on Flirtation

In a sexual culture, in which dating is extremely physical and the constant barrage of music and television only encourage such behavior, people really do seek an alternative.  At the same time, however, they are prepared to doubt and shoot down any idea they view as ‘too extreme’.  They will want results — but not sacrifice.

When talking about purity to and in the world, we cannot present the message as we can to our fellow Christian girls.  Christians have the responsibility to walk in purity: thus, when speaking to girls who have made the committment to Christ and to keep themselves pure, I challenge them.  They know the facts, they know the answers, they know what to do — now it is up to them to keep on track.  I don’t need to pussy-foot around them, because they are strong enough to stand on their own.

Girls of the world, however sad it may sound, are innocent of purity.  They know nothing of modesty, true femininity, or the beauty of a pure heart.  Their hardened faces and hearts are the product of pain and anguish that those of us raised in Christian homes may have never experienced.  What I see happening, too often, is a lack of compassion from ‘the pure girls’ for those who know no better.

Legalism.  Arrogance.  A haughty face and whispered words.  Unwillingness to greet the ‘immodest girl’ who attends church for the first time.  These are not attributes of the beautiful, loving woman God desires us to be, and even worse, there is nothing attractive about the ‘pure girl’ who possesses these attitudes.  Why would someone want any part of that for himself?

When I was twelve we left the church we had attended all my life.  My parents were married there.  Following that came a period of three years where we church-hopped, seeking one that fit our family.  As we went church to church, I went to only one where a girl approached me and asked my name.  Only one.  When we finally found a church of our own, I resolved to be that girl — no matter how uncomfortable it was.  I had hated the feeling of lonliness, watching the little cliques moving about the sanctuary, without hope of breaking in.  I didn’t want other girls to feel that way.

Now I ask you girls — and guys too — are you presenting a message of purity as unattainable?  Are you making purity seem arrogant, undesirable, and unapproachable?  Those weighed down by a guilty conscience will be looking for ways to judge and condemn the walk of purity.  Give them no reason to condemn!  Kindness and love go much further than legalism and a false sense of pride.  Remember, we are all sinners.  Left to myself I would probably be just like those ‘other’ girls.  Out of this recognition, I can maintain a spirit of compassion.

Compassion influences our actions and our words.  If there is one thing I have learned, it is that a condescending message turns away our society faster than you can say Sam Hill.  In countering this, many pastors and teachers make the mistake of watering down the message itself to tickle the ears of listeners.  This is wrong!  The message must remain the same — but the messenger, and the presentation, may change to fit the listener and the situation.

So many young men and women need to know the alternative to what they suffer through.  They don’t have answers, or hope, or a future — and we can give them all that.  Give kindly… and speak softly, with love.

“Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your salvation comes; behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him.  And they shall be called the Holy People, The Redeemed of the Lord, and you shall be called Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken.””  (Is. 62:11-12)

Who Calls Me Beautiful?

In the Purity Ring, the drama group I’m in, I was recently required to give a lesson on a book called “Who Calls Me Beautiful?” by Regina Franklin. I love giving lessons; mostly for the writing end of it. I make a little outline and hand it out to everyone. It’s just too much fun. For this project, it was necessary to read the book and summarize it on a level that was understandable for girls ages 12 to 18.

The book was alright. But it certainly wasn’t written for teenage girls! The book dealt with issues of insecurity about beauty that only older women deal with — after pregnancies, losing weight, etc. — and it would have more then likely embarrassed the girls I had to present my lesson to. So I modified it — added in important points it skipped, and took out the parts that didn’t pertain. It turned out in a format compatible to this blog, so I decided to post it along with my work on purity.

Who Calls Me Beautiful?

Worldly Beauty

In today’s culture, physical beauty has become the message of life’s story rather than a mere detail. Walk through the grocery store. Magazines like Cosmopolitan, Teen, and Allure advertise a beauty that is unrealistic and unattainable. Physical beauty is all that matters.

It goes even farther back than that. It has been ground into us that beauty is important — beauty, that is, as defined by society. Think a minute — what do you know about Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty? They were all “the fairest in the land”!

So why is outward beauty so important to the world? I came up with three reasons. First, to be attractive. Being attractive to the opposite sex has become a craze for both genders. One of the main goals of worldly beauty is to get attention from men. Women today have no concept of modesty — they would see that as hindering them in gaining the attention they crave. The attention they get, however, is not godly. A woman who is flaunting herself before men is not going to be appreciated for her mind or personality.

Secondly, worldly beauty is all about being powerful. People gain a sense of power by being in control of their body; i.e., their weight, their clothes, their makeup. Flip through any magazine or Phone Guide — you can hardly turn a page without seeing advertisements for cosmetic surgery, liposuction, drugs to make you lose weight, and the latest in fashion and makeup. To our society, the body is god. They truly have nothing else to live for. Their body is an empty shell — God’s spirit doesn’t live in it — so all they have to do is decorate the shell to seem like something substantial. They feel powerful when they look good.

Thirdly, worldly beauty is often seen as a necessary component for success. People who are not physically attractive are often not projected as efficient, intelligent or motivated; yet the external features of a person are simply a dim reflection of who that person is! No true assessment of a person’s character can be made within the first sight of them — it takes time. As a whole, worldly beauty is shallow and superficial, taking no concern for the depth and value of an individual’s character.

Godly Beauty
Now that we have seen our culture’s definition of beauty, let’s look at what a Christian man had to say about it. In Noah Webster’s dictionary, he defined beauty as: 1. A particular grace, feature or ornament; any particular thing which is beautiful and pleasing; 2. A particular excellence. Now tell me, is there anything pleasing or excellent about a shameless, bikini-clad model on the cover of Cosmopolitan? Or an ample-lipped Angelina Jolie sneering off a People magazine?
What comes to mind when you think of godly beauty? The picture that rises in my mind is of a painting I saw a long time ago… of a girl, about eighteen, standing at the little picket gate that led to her cottage. She was turned to face the artist, and she held a basket of vegetables in one hand, while her other rested on the latch. She was wearing a long dress, covered from neck to ankles — but you weren’t looking at her body, you were looking at her face. Her face was lit with a gentle, serene smile, as if she was obliging the artist to paint her for just a moment before she went about her duties. She was the picture of lovliness and purity.
So what is godly beauty? First, let’s establish something: while the world places tremendous importance upon the externals, your value is is NOT dependent upon your appearance. Which brings us to the question, “what are values?” Values can be defined as “things worth living and dying for”. You must be worth something, because someone died for you. Jesus didn’t look into the future, take one glance at you, and say, “What a homely creature! I’m not dying for THAT!” First, he created you, and secondly, his love is not dependent on how you look. You are valuable to him.

Godly beauty springs from a heart devoted to God. When we “abide in the Vine”, we bear fruit, “and so prove to be His disciples”. This fruit is called the “fruit of the Spirit”, and there are nine of them: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. These are true characteristics of beauty.

As a side note: everyone called by God’s name, every Christian girl, has a responsibility to represent her king well. While an over-emphasis on beauty is seen all around us, this does not mean we swing the other direction and ignore personal hygiene. For my family, this means a shower every day (or as soon as you begin to look “greasy”), deoderant, attractive hairstyles and yes, makeup. Besides representing God well, you are also responsible for representing your family, and someday, a husband. I don’t know about you, but I want my dad to be able to say, “That’s my daughter,” without cringing at the sight of me. The same goes for the man I marry. I think this can become especially difficult for homeschooled girls. Because we have been (thankfully) protected from peer pressure, we may have a tendency to neglect our appearance. Just remember, girls, that you represent God and your family — when people look at you, do they think, “I’d like to get to know this God!” or “I wonder who her family is?” And someday, some fellow might look at you and say, “I’d like to get to know that girl!”

Conclusion

In conclusion, worldly beauty is based on lust and lies. It is deceitful, unattainable and false. Godly beauty, on the other hand, springs from a heart that is seeking God and his righteousness. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). We should also strive to represent our God, family and self well by keeping up our appearances.

Finally, but perhaps most important, although you are precious in God’s eyes, He cannot and will not call you beautiful if you are living apart from Him. God cannot tolerate sin in His people. As long as you are in submission and obedience to Him, you are beautiful to Him whatever the world’s standards are; but when you are angry, dour, sour or mean, He is not looking down lovingly from on high saying, “Now that’s my girl! Ain’t she purdy!” No, she’s not. And you’re not. So although God IS love, His love is NOT blind.

Godly beauty is a reflection of a beautiful heart and is not connected to your outward appearance. Your face and body are like televisions, if you will; they are only the screen on which we watch your character play forth. Don’t let the world tell you what beauty is. Think of the One who loves you; the One who died for you; the One who “calls you beautiful“!

Delight Yourself In The Lord

Delight Yourself In the Lord


For my Medieval History study my sophomore year, I had to read a lovely old book by author Jane Porter called Scottish Chiefs. Many people have not even heard of this book, and though it is full of 19th century drama, it contains many lessons in feminine virtue for teenage girls today. Perhaps some of you have seen the movie Braveheart; Scottish Chiefs focuses on the same persona that stood in the spotlight of that Mel Gibson movie: William Wallace. For those of you who have never heard of him, Wallace was a Scottish rebel who fought against the English in the Middle Ages. In the story, he devotes himself completely to the service of God and Scotland to distract himself from his grief over the death of his young wife, Marion, who was killed by English soldiers. According to Porter’s novel, Wallace swore he could never love another woman unless she was as perfect as his deceased wife had been. But Wallace is not the character I want to focus on: I take the most interest in the central female character, Helen Mar. This young woman, though portrayed in a time period centuries before our own, is an example we teenage girls can learn much from.

Helen is the daughter of a wealthy nobleman of Scotland who supports Wallace in his endeavor to throw off English rule. Stunningly beautiful, Helen is sought after by many suitors; yet an unknown knight she meets in the Scottish highlands seems to be everything she has ever dreamed of in a man. Helen thinks of him often; reviews his words to her in their few, past moments together; pines away in her anxiety at seeing him again. Anxious to find out who he is, she awaits the arrival of William Wallace and his men impatiently. When the army finally arrives, Helen realizes, to her shame and embarassment, that the knight she was giving her heart to was William Wallace himself. To Helen, this was a terrible breach of purity, modesty and reverence for the chieftain’s dead wife. She had allowed herself to have romantic intentions toward someone who would never return them.

Ashamed to the very core, Helen turns to God, pleading for forgiveness for casting her heart away; and all the more on a man who would not return her affection. After re-dedicating herself to God, Helen realizes her heart cannot be given to Wallace, so satisfies herself in God and His Word. Her heart remains pure throughout the rest of the story, as she treats Wallace as a brother. It was so easy to let her tender emotions attach themselves to Wallace’s noble character; he was certainly worthy of her admiration; but Helen chose what was better.

My point in that book review is to show you how girls’ hearts haven’t changed over the centuries. The same little fire that burned in Helen’s heart toward Wallace may have burned in yours toward someone that caught your eye. Your sensitive emotions may have warmed toward that guy. You might have done as Helen did: thought about him, analyzed every syllable of every word he said to you, or impatiently waited for your next meeting. It is natural to “like” a young man; to consider certain characteristics to be admirable; but when you begin to think of nothing else, when the thought of him clouds your mind, “admiration”has gone too far. Is the thought of him keeping you from spending time with your family? Are those thoughts causing you to manipulate situations to be near him? Are you forgetting your girlfriends and siblings while you dream? Is your time with God suffering? Are your daily decisions and choices altered by your distraction from God’s commands? All these questions should be asked when you find yourself yielding to a warmth in your heart. What is that warmth? Those are your emotions; the very ones God wants you to preserve for Him. Ask yourself those questions. Are you maintaining emotional purity?

Earlier I referred to emotional purity as a girl’s greatest struggle. I believe it really is! It is so easy to have a crush and let it go way too far – even (sometimes especially) without the object of your admiration knowing! But what to do? How in the world do we keep our hearts in place through our teenage years, protecting them carefully for God? Let’s see what Helen did:
“. . . such she would regard him, until in the realms of purity she might acknowledge the brother of her soul!”
Helen controlled her emotions. She regarded Wallace as “the brother of her soul”, as we also are called by God to regard the Christian guys we know:
“. . . treat the [young] men like brothers . . . in all purity.” 1 Tim. 4:1-2

It’s wonderful, really. No pressure to “like” anyone, just friendships “in all purity”. Yet God had more than one reason for commanding us to walk in emotional purity with our brothers. Yes, He loves and wants the best for us; but also, our God is a jealous God! He wants our hearts to be totally dedicated to Him, a fact well illustrated by Exodus 20:5-6:
“You shall not bow down to [the idols] or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children of the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
This may be a strong analogy, but are your crushes your idols? Are you serving yourself by focusing on a guy when you should be focused on God? I know I am guilty of doing that very thing. Thankfully, I know God has forgiven me of my past foolishness, and because of this, I want to warn you girls out there – don’t throw your heart away! A boy will never fulfill you emotionally the way God can; a guy can never provide the security the Lord of the universe can! Whatever your motivation for “liking”someone may be, whatever the deepest desire of your heart is, God can take care of it. But He asks something of you before he does:
“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act.” Ps. 37:4-5
Can you delight in Him? I would suggest that, if you haven’t already, you “commit your way to the Lord”. Even if you are already a Christian, it is necessary that everything you have – heart, soul, mind, and strength – be dedicated to God.
It can be hard. God created our hearts to want to love. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if that love were God’s completely, until, if He wills it, we meet our future mate? Of course, life isn’t about getting married; it isn’t about dating or courting or love or romance; it’s about our walk with God, which has eternal consequences. We can’t be distracted from our ultimate purpose here: to glorify the Author of Life, and shine His light into this dark world.
“To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Rom.8:6
This message may be a hard pill to swallow. It sure was for me. It took years for me to finally let God break my habit of hopping from one crush to the next. Fixing our minds on Him will give us security, fulfillment, peace – everything He promises in His Word. How much more lasting, wonderful, and beautiful are those things than the momentary emotional fling we get from giving our hearts away! Our hearts can be scarred, broken, or crushed if we toss them around in a romantic game of Hot Potato, but the most lovely thing about giving our hearts away to Jesus is that He will never fail us!

“Now flee youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” 2 Tim 2:22

Phylicia

Three Products of Purity

My last post very quickly summarized why purity of heart is important. I want to continue that thought. I believe that purity of heart has three facets, or three areas, that it primarily influences: the mind, the emotions, and the body.

First, purity of mind is defined by Webster as “freedom from any sinister or improper views; as the purity of motives or designs”. A pure mind is free of sinful thoughts; whether they are judgmental, lustful, or begrudging. As females, we won’t have as much of a struggle, if any, with lustful thoughts toward the opposite sex; yet purity of mind is still important. As I said before, impure thoughts can be judgmental, begrudging, or biased. Our thoughts are perhaps the greatest influence on our words, so if we are judging others, etc., these ideas will eventually emerge from our mouths. For example, gossip usually sprouts from a jealous or judgmental mind.

Second on our list is purity of emotion, which is what I believe to be a girl’s greatest struggle. As a girl, you probably already know that we [girls] are very emotional creatures. We respond to love, anger, compassion, and other expressions of feeling more readily than guys. God made us this way. But what are we to do with it? God wants us to use this tenderness for His glory, not use it and abuse it. Many girls who are perfectly pure in body are sadly scarred in the heart from giving this precious gift away to every guy they happen to “like”. This is very easy; sometimes almost unconcious. Usually emotional impurity begins as a girlish crush, then swells to greater proportions.

Lastly, purity of body is a direct product of purity of emotion. If your heart isn’t caught up with a guy, but with God, there are very few temptations toward crossing any physical lines.

Perhaps you noticed that each of these “purities” leads into the next. Purity of mind, or purity of intention, prevents impurity of the emotions. Purity of emotion protects you from the temptation of sexual impurity. But above all, purity of heart begins the entire process. When you are dedicated to God, when your heart is being molded after His, you will automatically produce the fruits of purity in all areas of your life . . . a great step toward our goal of becoming virtuous women.

Clean Hands and a Pure Heart

Can you imagine a “virtuous woman” thinking evil, judgmental, or envious thoughts? How about being devious and deceptive? Or being known as an accomplished flirt? The answer to that is no. When I think of a virtuous woman, I picture a girl who is kind, caring, gentle, strong . . . all the good stuff. But one thing that stands out among all her virtues – the attribute that paved the way for all them to come into existence – is purity.

A virtuous woman is one that is marked by purity. Pretty much the closest thing to purity we hear about these days is “abstinence”, or remaining sexually pure. That’s wonderful! Yet, for the Christian girl, there is a foundation that lies strong and solid beneath the superficial committment to sexual purity. This foundation is purity of heart.

Purity in general is essential to a deep, meaningful relationship with God. Yet there is one kind of purity that shines its radiant light in and upon all the others. This is purity of heart. Purity of heart covers everything: purity of mind, purity of motivation, purity of emotion, and purity of body. Essentially, a pure heart is a pure soul. We know that when we talk about “giving our hearts to Jesus” we really mean that we have surrendered to Him our soul. When we give God our soul, we are handing over the very core of our being. If everything we are is His, that means that every area of our life is His also. So it is with purity. By surrendering to Jesus our hearts, committing them to His purity, we are accepting His purity into all other parts of our lives. This is the beginning of the walk of a virtuous woman.

Who can ascend to the hill of the Lord? Who can stand in His holy place? [She] who
has clean hands and a pure heart. . .” Ps. 24:3-4

God is perfect. He is also perfectly pure. Because of this, He cannot associate with any kind of impurity or evil, or His own purity would be tarnished. And if God is no longer the ultimate, untarnished point of reference for us in our walk to be like Him, then our efforts are in vain. This is why He cannot accept impurity in us.

In my next few little posts, I am going to explore the areas of purity directly affected by purity of heart. But remember, it is a complete dedication of your heart to God that will begin this wonderful process of purity in your life. Surrender all to Him; your heart, your soul, your mind, and your strength. The whispers of impurity are all around us, but God’s call to purity of heart is louder and stronger. With Him, you can overcome anything. First, you have to listen. Second, you have to obey.