unconditional love

A lot of things change in life. In the past year, a lot of things have changed in mine. The natural rhythm of life carries us through tides of highs and tides of lows, but through it all one thing always remains. One thing, the one thing that I could reach out for when my heart felt broken and my actions disappointing, will always remain. The steadfast love, peace, and grace of Jesus Christ will always be there, freely available to us. God doesn’t move away from us but is always near, waiting patiently to welcome us back into His embrace of mercy, peace, comfort, and belonging. When I’m far from God, when my heart is troubled and my mind conflicted, it is never because God has forgotten about me or drifted away from me; the truth is quite the opposite. As a human, I am inherently chained by the tendencies of temptation, disappointment, and worldly comfort. As a child of God, I am freed by the abundant love and forgiveness, truth and goodness that showers me in the presence of my savior. When I am far, I am ashamed and discouraged, but God doesn’t say to shame or self-criticize ourselves whenever we are falling away, back into old, undesirable rhythms of life. He says,

12 Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive.” – Jeremiah 29:12-14

There is no holding line, wait-list, consideration period, or redemption process that God requires us to go through before we are welcomed back into His loving, accepting arms.  The tone is this message is immediate, urgent, imminent. Call on me, and I will listen. Seek Me, and find Me. He knows the posture of our hearts before we even “let him in” on it, and He knows our desires and heartaches. Like anything, returning to God requires work on our part as any relationship does. It requires sacrifice and dedication, communication and honesty. What it doesn’t demand or even allow is trying to earn God’s love. We can’t earn it; we don’t deserve it and nothing we do can make us more deserving of His infinite grace and acceptance. It was given to us, the greatest gift of all time. God doesn’t want our empty actions or articulated words, He wants our hearts. Our purified, humbled, earnest and bold hearts. We are more than the lows we experience or the highs we admire; through all of those moments, God welcomes us unconditionally and immediately. That is love.

“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
    for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
    for to you I entrust my life.”

— Psalm 143:8

who you are

Your life experiences unquestionably define who you are and guide where you belong in the world. We are each given unique stories – challenges, triumphs, memories, passions – that aid us in figuring out what type of life we are to live. Since I’ve been in college, I have met people from SO many different walks of life, and it has been one of my favorite aspects of moving out of a small town and into a more culturally and ethnically diverse city. The people I’ve become very close friends with come from all over the world and from every background – Russian, African, Indian, Egyptian, Irish, Ukrainian, American, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, poor, rich, sick, and every quality or descriptor in between. The love I have for each of these people is specific and unique to the friendship that we share, and I’m so glad that I’ve come to know them and their story. Along this journey though, I often found myself asking “Who am I? Where do I come from? What characteristics define me?” and yesterday I again happened upon this internal self-discussion after a conversation I had with a friend in my lab. He very casually told me, “Mary, I can finally hear your Southern accent!” which lead down a rabbit hole of conversation on the lifetime struggle of talking with a “twang” and how “cute” it is (Ha). I told him that sometimes people assume others with a Southern accent are less intelligent, less capable, or have certain ideologies. For this reason, I had become accustomed to avoiding phrases that make me sound more Southern. What I have learned though, through encountering others that embrace and welcome their cultural identity, is that I am Southern and I do have a Southern accent. I was raised in a small town and my identity is comprised of those memories that I created as a child. I had this unnerving feeling when I entered college of not having an identity at all, not belonging to a defined “group” with certain values. I often felt like others were very different from me (because, well, they were and still are in many ways) and didn’t share a lot of the experiences I had while growing up. Instead of shaming away from this I began to cherish my own culture. I shared with people what it was like growing up in a small town in Tennessee (as compared to Chicago or Memphis or New York City). I delighted in the fact that I had (and have) certain challenges different from others and that those things make me, me. This acceptance and confidence has permeated into other aspects of my life. Previously at work, I sought to make myself very . . . uniform. I dressed simply and didn’t feel comfortable sharing the intricacies and details of my personality. This was largely in part because I worked with male supervisors and male colleagues and didn’t want to be perceived as less intelligent or less focused on my career. I’ve learned though, by being surrounded by team members that fully accept and cherish who they are, that who I am doesn’t negate my abilities but encourages them. Speaking of my passions and my childhood memories, wearing the clothes that make me feel confident and feminine, and accepting that I am an empowered, capable female, has strengthened my work ethic and confidence, not taken away from it. Yes, I wear eyeliner and like to do yoga. I didn’t take ten AP classes or go to a private, preparatory high school, but I do have the capability to learn and to succeed just as my peers do and have demonstrated that learning is more important than formal education. This is so important, because I really feel like people who may not fit into certain groups need to be encouraged to come from a position of strength instead of weakness. Don’t let the influence of those around you – their maleness (or femaleness), intelligence, appearance, or success – alter the way that you view yourself. What I have learned since accepting that I have a past that makes me better, not worse, and a future that is as bright as the person next to me, is that people love me and appreciate my work for exactly who I am. They like that I can have a conversation about growing up in a small town and how I like to enjoy myself in Nashville. Just because I wear makeup and have my hair fixed doesn’t mean I don’t get called on during meetings to answer hard questions or given hard tasks to complete. I no longer feel like I have no identity because instead of trying to create one that didn’t exist, I accepted the one I already have. There is great power in knowing who you are, growing in who you are, and loving who you are. Not only is there power, but there is indefinite peace.