Monday, July 19, 2010

buddhist meditations and the church.

Around this time last fall, Chris and I were walking along a silent sidewalk in search of number 2937. Two-nine-three-seven... one foot in front of the other, not quite sure where 2937 would lead us, yet unmistakably certain that we thought we knew what we'd find there. We approached a set of stairs with brochures leading the way towards a giant set of glass doors. One step inside, and we veered toward the left; it looked comfortable there. There, at a table, we inscribed our names on a piece of paper, surrounded by small figurines and informational pamphlets. We shuffled a few into our arms, and waited in the awkwardness.

A man approached us, a man of short stature in an ashy orange and deep red robe with one shoulder uncovered. He welcomed us with a smile on his face, a smile that suggested a hint of something that was not right. He asked us our names, and listened tentatively until his eyes couldn't stand it anymore--He peered down at our feet and it became painfully obvious: we were wearing shoes in his sacred place of worship.

To be honest, I had many expectations about what I would encounter at a Buddhist meditation. Chris had to attend a meditation for one of his undergrad classes, so I thought it'd be "fun" to tag along. Besides, who would send their boyfriend into the barefoot unknown alone?

In the past, I never would have done something like this. Why? Because my mind was filled with presumptions that going into certain people's worlds was simply unforgivable; Like stepping into the world of a Buddhist monk would taint my heart a certain shade of wrong. Then, I'd lose my grip on right; I'd forget who God is. Somewhere along the way, someone told me I'd fall into a slippery slope of confusion, and once I did, I might never be able to find my way back again.

But, you see, I learned a lot of things by going to a Buddhist meditation; it was nothing like I had expected. I had expected a man sitting on the floor, legs crossed, holier-than-thou, singing a song through the humming of his throat, eyes closed, with very few words. I had expected silence and a whole lot of awkwardness; many robes, and that Chris and I, in our not-so-fit-for-Buddhist-worship apparel, would stick out like a sore thumb.

We didn't stick out, and to my surprise, the monk was young, about our age, with a personality. I know, right? He talked about life, and the struggles people go through, and then, he told us that he goes to work every week. Let's be honest, that's the last place I pictured a Buddhist monk going. No temple? No humming? No pointing the finger that the new kids stepped on your "mystic" carpet with the soles of our shoes?

And then it hit me -- that the way I had mustered up various "expectations" about a Buddhist meditation was probably the way that a lot of people had micromanaged their thoughts of church, God, grace, Jesus, pastors, go crazy and fill in the blank. We all have expectations about how certain people might act towards us; how we are going to be treated in certain circles. We might think we have no business being in the midst of "goodness" (people don't know how "bad" we really are, and if they did, they'd never accept us!); that a preacher is too holy and could never understand the struggles of the not-so-blessed, and, I hate to say it, but that Christians might judge us. Who, Christians? Judge?

Let's face it -- we all have expectations that control what we do. Too often, our fears bind us in a cage that keeps us from getting to know people in their worlds and learning to loving them there. Letting go of expectations does not mean that we embrace all ideas as truth; we stand firm as ever, but we do it by choosing to see the world with a heart that chooses not to judge, not to live in a prison, and not to fear that which is different. And sometimes, just sometimes, it means sitting on the floor of someone else's world, legs-crossed, singing a song through the humming of our throats, eyes closed, praying like we've never prayed before that the truth of God's love--God's unconditional, stereotype-free love, would overwhelm us all.

What "expectations" do you have surrounding the church, God, Jesus, etc?
What fears do you have about things that are different than your norm?

Challenge yourself. What will you do about them?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

choosing to be glad...

Somewhere in the midst of job interviews, career decisions, and countless conversations about "what is next," I have forgotten what the Lord spoke to me a few weekends ago at a Girls Beach Retreat I attended in NJ. I somehow managed to shuffle the Lord's still small voice beneath waiting for the phone to ring and a few emotional break-downs about my future. Allow me to explain.

Ever since I relocated from Florida to Baltimore, the question from nearly everyone has been this: So what are you going to DO? I have never hated this question, and in fact, it has always sparked a sense of adventure and excitement as the Lord has led me through various seasons of my life. My response, generally, was that I was going to DO whatever the Lord led me to DO. I was going to GO where He opened doors, and I was going to LOVE the people around me. Hands down, that's what I was going to DO. Only this time, things seem different.

I am a college graduate, and I have no idea what the future holds. No classes to attend, or activities to "pass the time." I have been stripped from most of my comforts, and in my eyes, I'm not DOING anything right now. This could be a complete lie, but the majority of those around me seem to have some kind of direction in their lives. Me? I have never been more confused than I am now. This confusing has triggered a complete sense of helplessness in my spirit; one that reminds me that obsessing over and trying to control the details of my life is a job much too big for little ol' me. Go figure.

That was precisely what I felt the Lord saying to me a few weekends ago while I was journaling and praying at the beach. I was thinking about what it means to "be still," and why I had such a hard time with the "waiting process" (Read my previous post!) I tried to listen to the Lord amidst the crashing of the waves on the shore in front of me. Here is the "letter" that somehow became of that moment:

"Shel, you know that I am the LORD. Sure, you go through dry spouts, but you DO know that.
Perhaps your brokenness is not for YOU.
Perhaps it is because 'broken pieces will feed the multitude' and there's a multitude around you that is hungry.
You have wept to me about how the world is hungry, about how they need so much,
and like Christ was broken and poured out for many, you, as His servant and chosen one, must be broken.
Your perfectionism and plans bring glory to YOU, Shel, but I want the glory.
I need you to struggle through this so that others can see ME come through.
Stop trying to fix everything.
Be still, and let yourself be broken before me.
You know I won't leave you that way forever, baby girl.
I love you too much to do that.
But for now, I have placed you where you are, to be broken for a little while.
To wrestle, to yearn, and to invite the multitude of those around you into that process
Can you trust me?

I needed to re-read this and post it as a sweet reminder that amidst the chaos, the Lord has not left me. He has a PLAN for me, and He knows exactly how He wants to use me here in Baltimore. Any talents, gifts, or abilities -- HE has given me for His purpose. The Lord does not operate on MY time table, but on HIS. There is a purpose for the waiting, and a plan for all of the things that I cannot see.

"So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while..." 1 Peter 1:6

Choosing to be glad. Thank you, Lord.


waiting away.

Our lives revolve around waiting. We wait for the light to turn green, for the clock to strike six so we can leave our offices, for "mister right" to enter our lives and swoop us off our feet. We wait for telephone calls, for the latest gadgets, for birthdays, anniversaries -- you get the point.

Some of us despise waiting. It annoys us to have to wait in line, or to be served last. Some of us get so frustrated by the need to wait that we find ourselves "lashing out" at whoever will take the fall. "We should not have to wait," we tell ourselves, and in the process, we cling onto the notion that waiting is bad. Waiting is useless. Waiting has no purpose. We kick and scream, because, well, "we should not have to wait!"

Or so I thought.

I've never been one to be annoyed about having to wait in line, or waiting for a friend. But in this season of my life, "waiting" has taken on an entirely new meaning. It's like I'm waiting, but I have no idea what I am waiting for. Will I figure out where my "niche" is in this place? Will I find a job? Will I ever get over X, Y, Z? Who am I? You know, all of those fun questions that everyone loves to answer when asked. I am at a stand still, and my natural reaction is to lash out and try to do something about it. You know... fill my schedule with "things" that make the pain of not knowing less heart wrenching. Less obvious. Less lonely. I know that's not healthy, but it's all I know to do.

And then I come across books, like Sue Monk Kidd's "When the Heart Waits," that advocate for the waiting process, as if it is some kind of great and wonderful season that purges the "dark holes" in us and thrusts us into the future, transformed and new. I am not angry with her book, or with her for that matter. Her book is so powerful and distrupting to what I thought my heart was doing right... so much so that I have made it through a mere 34 pages in the past three months. Nope - not mad at Sue, just mad that I am still waiting.

It's not fun.
It feels chaotic, and boring, and confusing.
Sue assures me that it is necessary.
Sue assures me that I shouldn't be afraid of the "pause."
Sue assures me that waiting is not "doing nothing."
Waiting is doing something. MORE than doing something.
It's letting God speak to you; it's being still, and resting in what you do know.
It's letting go of control. Admitting that you cannot do it all.
Did I mention it's not fun?

Nope, not fun at all.

Yet here I remain.... waiting away.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

is there hope beyond suffering?

All I could hear was heavy breathing; heavy breathing that told me that things were not as they should be. My mom repeated the petition of her heart that God would just take him, my uncle Eugene, and alleviate him from his suffering. But all we were left with was deep, heavy breathing.

It all happened so quickly. A routine appointment for back pains brought about the news that no one was expecting: you have cancer and it has spread rapidly. Two months was all it would take, the doctor said. Two months and it would all be over, and as we listened and watched the depths of these painful events unfold, we couldn't help but feel broken and in pain ourselves.

This morning may have been the last time that my uncle will ever hear my voice. The phone was lifted to his ear, and he waited to hear me... Hi uncle Eugene, this is Shelly, and I am here for you, I said. That's all I could say, because before I knew it, the tears began to pour out from my eyes, uncontrollably, and for the first time in months, I felt something other than simply 'numb' and 'indifferent.' I felt helpless, and weak, and in need of God's strength and love more than ever.

I listened to his heavy breathing, and to his deep moans of suffering and pain, and my heart broke into pieces. Perhaps this is what God meant when He said that we are to "rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn." No words would have had the power to remove his pain, and so there I remained... weeping and praying, each deep breath reminding me that life and death are out of my control. Pain and suffering are inevitable, and that sure is an easy thing to say, that is, until you are the one who has been engulfed by it.

I don't know why this is happening, but I do know this. God is a God of LOVE and PEACE and PURPOSE. I believe it breaks His heart to see suffering as much as it breaks ours. But the beauty and reconciliation that can arise from our trials, our tears, our heartache, and our pain... that is what God is after. He is after our hearts, above all else, and like a caterpillar must struggle its way out of a cocoon before she can become a butterfly, flying and free, so must we..... struggle, and weep, and endure the suffering of this life.

Join me in praying for God's hand in the life of my uncle and for the rest of my family who is struggling to see HOPE in this trial -- especially for his daughter, my grandmother, and my mother.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

someone "gets me"

Ever feel like you just want someone to "get you?" As in, you explain how you feel about something, or what you're passionate about, but no one else quite understands? They try to understand, and they may pretend like they understand, but deep down you know there's a disconnect?

In completing Day 4 of my "90 Days with the Beloved Disciple" study, I learned something that speaks to the many times in my own life that I have grumbled those very words that 'I feel like no one gets me.' Somewhere along the line, I began to internalize the idea that the pains and struggles that I had experienced were unique only to me. "Everyone else seems so happy," I would convince myself. And when I finally began to seek healing for some of those pains and figure out what I am truly passionate about, that disconnect became even greater. Unfortunately both inside and outside of the church, the idea of giving your life to love and serve the lowly seems a bit "extreme" and what many would deem "unnecessary." I have a dear friend who explains it best when she says, "I am in a Christian community, and I have chosen to give my life to serving these inner-city kids. Most people just look at me like I am crazy, and they tell me to get a 'real job' and help out on the side. I just wish someone got me."

This morning as I was praying through these thoughts, I realized for the first time that God gets me. Revolutionary, I know. The God of the universe knows what it's like to experience pain, loss, and separation because He experienced the death of His child. Makes my pain of being separated from those I love in West Palm Beach seem a lot smaller, I suppose. The God of the universe knows what it's like to feel misunderstood, because since creation, He has been trying to get the attention of His people and speak to them about who He is. Imagine what it feels like to spend thousands of years trying to convince people that you are good and that you can be trusted. I know I would have given up a long time ago.

But God never has. The pages of His Word are filled with stories of His relentless pursuit of you and me. Ask any follower of Christ and they will tell you that God's pursuit did not stop in the first century A.D. It is alive and active today, being manifested in both the spectacular and the ordinary places.

Even if no one else in the world does, God gets you. He is personal, and devoted, and a fighter. He fights for me every single day. I'm a bit stubborn, and selfish most days, but nonetheless He continues to fight. He fought for me as a child before I acknowledged Him, and through the many many times that I have rejected Him. And now, after years of striving to follow Christ, love God, and love others... I am reminded that I am not alone. God gets me. And even if no one else in the world ever does, that can be enough for me. And of course, for you, He will fight for you. You need only to be still (Exodus 14:14).

Monday, March 1, 2010


For any and all who laughed at Chris and I when we opted out of a normal Sunday routine, and even a hockey game, to put together a book-shelf, you'll be happy to know that we did so successfully. No frustrations, or mishaps, or hair pulling (just kidding).... but really, look how excited Chris is [and please ignore all the move-in mess in the background!]:

He did an amazing job putting it together, and he even let me help.... a little :)

After about two hours, here is our finished product. Quite a steal for $30 at Target.

And of course, us, happy as can be to finally be finished. I love him :)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

an "alexander" day

One of my favorite childhood stories is the story of "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day." I love Alexander and I feel for him, because in this story, everything seems to be going wrong for him on this particular day. He wakes up in the morning with gum in his hair. His teacher likes someone else's drawing better than his. He skips number 16 at counting time, and to top it all off, his mom serves lima beans for dinner and there is kissing on TV! Poor Alexander is convinced that life would be better elsewhere, so each and every time something goes wrong, he thinks to himself... "maybe I'll just go to Australia."

I had one of these days yesterday. I set my alarm to wake up early, but hit the snooze button for over twenty minutes. I finally woke up and we were out of the coffee I liked; we only had some funky flavored stuff. I left the house and drove a half hour (in the snow!) to go to the DMV, and after waiting for over twenty minutes to be called, it turns out I had left my social security card at home and couldn't get my new Maryland license. Epic fail. I missed a phone call from a friend in Florida. The salt trucks drove by and splashed dirty residue all over my car on my way to Target. I ran inside, looking for a book shelf I had been searching for the entire week, and when I finally found it, I pulled it off the shelf and cut my finger in the process. I wanted to buy new sheets for my bed, but couldn't find the ones I wanted. After finding ones that "would do," I brought them home to try them out. They had a rip in them. So I jumped back into my car, not realizing I was wearing my slippers, and on my way down the road, a car pulled out in front of me and almost crashed into me. On my way into Target the second time around, I walked in the "exit" doors and nearly tackled two separate families without even realizing it. As I was leaving, I thought of Alexander and I mumbled those very words to myself.... "I hate Baltimore! I think I'll just go to Australia!"

Thankfully yesterday, the good moments I had far outweighed the chaos of going to Target in my slippers and bandaging up a bleeding finger in the middle of the store aisle. Yesterday, I got to spend over two hours with my college roommate and dear friend Stacie at Panera; our conversation was refreshing to my soul and that girl makes me laugh like no other! I found a bedspread for my bed, and put my world map up on the wall; my room is finally starting to feel like "my own." For the first time in a while, I got to sit down and really talk to my mom; it was wonderful. Last night, Chris and I were feeling "creative," so we bought the ingredients to make our very own pizza. Together, we made the most deliciousssss dinner, and of course there were chocolate chip cookies involved. We make a great team :)

That being said, Baltimore is not so bad. I imagine I'll have plenty more "Alexander" days, but I wouldn't trade those sweet moments with friends and family and Chris for Australia any day. I might spend a few minutes on expedia here and there, but at the end of the day, I know I'm right where I belong.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

who defines you?

My dear friend Luisel Lawler from West Palm Beach gave me an amazing book as a gift before I left for Baltimore. It is a rather large and very thick book, that in most cases might be intimidating because there's a statue of a man on the front, and it seems like the inside pages go on forever. I know that it's not, because it is called "John: 90 Days with the Beloved Disciple" and frankly spending 90 days with someone like John could only be refreshing and sweet. Weird statue man aside, I figured I'd start with "day one" this morning.

I am not going to explain everything that Beth Moore outlined in day one (i'll let you go get the study for yourself and commit to those 90 days!), but I do want to focus on something that really spoke to me. For those of you who don't know, John was one of Jesus' followers way back in the day. He wrote the infamous "John" chapter of the Bible, where the well-known verse "John 3:16" can be found. He was a fisherman working for his father when he met Jesus. He had an older brother, and Beth points out that in this ancient culture, the first-born always got the best and most-esteemed: double portion of the father's inheritance. Respect. Leadership. First dibs. Everything. And who was John? He was just the "younger brother." In every sense, John was defined by his relationship to his older brother and his father. I'm sure, as in any family, he wanted to find an identity and significance of his own, but wrestled to break free from his natural place as "John, the younger brother of James."

One of the reflection questions that Beth asks us to consider is how we have been defined by our relationships with others, and more importantly, how that identification has affected our lives. I can recount numerous times in my life when I have felt defined by my relationship to a friend, or a boyfriend, and even an employer. In the moment, all that mattered to me was what that person thought of me, how he or she esteemed me (or did not, rather), and of course, how the world viewed me in light of my relationship with that person. As one can imagine, it was extremely tiring trying to live my life like this, because at the end of the day, no matter how hard I had tried to gain the approval of others and avoid the depths of loneliness I experienced apart from those relationships, it was inevitable; I still felt alone.

Looking back, and even today as I stand face-to-face with similar challenges of wanting to "be accepted," I am thankful to God because these challenges remind me that I can never find the fulfillment I am looking for in another person. People can love me, as I know they do, but they cannot be my everything. They cannot fill the depths of my heart and they cannot heal my life. They cannot always be there. Only God can be my everything; only He can fill my cup. As long as I seek to find my identity, happiness, and fulfillment in the world and in those around me, I am going to be left feeling empty and without peace. I know the tune to this song unfortunately all too well.

That being said, for any and everyone who actually reads this, I want you to ask yourself that same question: How have you allowed yourself to be defined by your relationship to someone else? Has this relationship filled you, as you were hoping it would?

Think about it, pray about it, and don't be afraid of what you discover. We all search for complete fulfillment in our lives, because our hearts were created to BE completely fulfilled. We just might be looking in the wrong places, and the beauty of grace is that it's never too late to start over again. Share your experiences, if you'd like. We're all in this together.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

here goes nothing...

As of nine whole days ago, I have officially returned to Baltimore. Yes, I live here... I live in Baltimore. Maybe I'll write it fifty more times in order to come to terms with the fact that it is true.

Many of you may be wondering if this was ever part of my "plan" to come back here. I'll admit to you with conviction that Baltimore was the one place in the world that I never wanted to return to. Baltimore is where I have fallen the hardest, failed the most, and where everyone knows who I used to be before Jesus got my life together and gave me some purpose beyond alcohol, the attainment of physical beauty, and countless unhealthy relationships. Baltimore was where it all began, and Baltimore is where my testimony of redemption screams loud and clear from each and every person and place that I come in contact with. I have picked you up from the pit, Shelly. Leave your past behind and be free.

So, here I am... attempting to do just that. This is a new stage of life for me, and though it feels like there is a dark cloud of confusion, frustration, and brokenness hovering around me from all angles, I am holding onto hope: the pain will not be forever, the confusion will someday be resolved, and of course, love will always win. Each day, I have to wake up in the morning and remind myself that this move is not about me, or about making me feel comfortable. I move as a missionary because God has called me to a great mission. The mission will sometimes hurt. The mission will sometimes lead to rejection. But one thing is certain above all else: the one who has called me is faithful [1 Thessalonians 5:24]. He is faithful, he is good, and he knows what he is doing.

even when I don't believe it.

I am going to write this journey out, and I am making a commitment to myself to process it with myself and with the world through this blog. Not all of my posts are going to be upbeat and exciting, and more days than not, I imagine I won't have an answer for the things I am feeling. That is the beauty of the journey... it is not about the arrival, but about the small victories, day by day, where we can see God bringing things together for good. That being said, welcome to the journey. Welcome to my journey of starting over and adjusting to life in Baltimore. I am blessed that you can be a part of it, so here goes nothing.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

hello, trust.

So, I have a confession to make. This week, I have been an awful, selfish, and irritable person. I am almost too embarrassed to admit these things, but as I have always been told, there is great freedom in sharing our "junk." Allow me to explain.

Let's just say that my heart over this past week has been like a very large cup, sitting on a table. Me, myself, and I.... we have filled this cup with thoughts about the future, frustrations, doubts, hurts, and our own attempts to control that which we have NO business controlling. We have filled our cup to the brim, so much so that there is absolutely NO room for anything else BUT this collection of JUNK. So when someone comes along trying to "get in," as a few did this past week, there is no room for them in my cup. It's like they pour water into my cup and it just overflows and spills out of the sides and onto the table before I even recognize it happened. And there I am left with a heart filled with JUNK that is sitting in a puddle of failed attempts to give me what I didn't even realize I needed. So it has been, just me and my junky, junky cup. Oh, and the puddle... that is larger than I would like to admit. Hmph.

That being said, I need to get all the JUNK out; let it all go, and trust God. Don't I know these things? Haven't I been here enough times in my life to know that worrying gets me no where? That trying to plan my future is a crazy thing to do in light of the ways God has worked in my life? Yes, yes, and yes. Yes to the eight-thousandth power. I just need to be reminded, that's all.

So here I am, relinquishing control; emptying my cup and all of it's JUNK for the world to see. Goodbye, plans. Goodbye, doubts. Goodbye, worrying. Hello, trust; It's nice to see you again.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

his name was homeless and hungry...

His name was homeless and hungry, and he stood on the corner of Okeechobee and Jog. He was tall and lanky, his skeleton-like frame topped off with a grungy, baseball cap, and his jeans torn at the seams. In his arms, he held nothing but a cardboard sign: homeless and hungry. At the street corner where he stood, his possessions consisted of the dirt that he had collected at his feet. Yet there he stood, homeless and hungry.

As I approached the red light and my journey back to the warm comforts of a house and home came to a brief stop, I couldn't help but wonder where this man would sleep tonight; whether he had a place to rest his head, or someone to encourage him to never cease hoping and trying to overcome. I had no idea what had gotten him to this place, whether it was drug addiction, foreclosure, domestic violence, or just plain laziness, but in that moment, it didn't matter. In that moment, it was not my place to judge him or assume that I had the faintest idea what he was going through. I have never myself been homeless, and let's face it, I have never really gone hungry. My daily burdens consists of meetings, and appointments, and coffee dates; getting frustrated at the bank teller for not cashing my check into the right account, or complaining about how quickly my cell phone battery runs out. His, I imagine, are like small glimpses of hell on earth; moments in which he wonders not "what's for dinner," but "when might I eat next?" Moments in which he feels utterly and completely alone, with no one to love him, no one to listen to him, and no one to show him that the existence of good people and a good God are not just myths to be spoken of, but very powerful and freeing realities.

I may never see this man again, but I will never forget his name: homeless and hungry. His name is etched in the faces of people in our communities, our schools, and our churches. His name is crying out from the broken places, and as the billions of suffering people both around the world and in our neighborhoods continue to weep for justice and hope, I pray we never turn our faces from them; that we find it in our hearts to flash them a smile. Dare to look at them and not judge, but see them as human beings who are broken and lost just like we are. Acknowledge them. Affirm them. Love them, for we never know whether we may find ourselves just as they are: homeless and hungry. If we ever do, I am sure we'd want nothing less ourselves.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

once upon a time, I thought I knew how to love...

There are not words to express the anguish and emotion I felt yesterday as I hugged the Apicella children goodbye. Yes, another goodbye, and I'm afraid this is only the beginning. After nine long months of schedules, play dates, ballet, girls nights, Barbie, roadtrips, messes, giggles, and tears, it would be a complete understatement to say that I have gotten a bit attached. I can't bring myself to truly accept that it is now over, done. Just like that.

I was never just their babysitter, or their nanny, or whatever you want to call it. From the moment I felt God asking me to come to West Palm Beach from Ecuador, I knew I was going for a purpose much greater than myself. I have seen, day in and day out, the seeds that have been planted and the fruits of my obedience in that decision. I suppose that is cause for rejoicing.

Here's the kicker. Before I came here, I thought I knew how to love. I had been in relationships, and had deep friendships, and had even spent time with orphans overseas. I had read books on love, and had studied the famous "love" passage in the Bible; let's just say I thought I had it down. Funny how God works, because though I have always known that I was called to give my life to loving people, the call of a missionary no doubt, living with the Apicella family and spending these past nine months of my life in Florida have completely transformed my perception of what it means to love. Reality has turned my world upside down, in a really good way.

I have always heard that love is sacrificial, and that it is not self-seeking, but never before had I seen the necessity of this kind of love before I came here. I think that's why it hurts so deeply to walk away from this family, for through them... through the hurts and pains, frustrations, and even the sweetest of moments, I have learned that love cannot be shaken. It cannot be moved by condition or washed away by our shortcomings. Love is a choice most days, but it is something worth fighting for. It is truly a miracle to say that through it all, I love them more than I ever thought I could. I am thankful to God for this work He has done in my heart, and I wouldn't trade the hard days for this treasure I have now. I think that is the beauty of loving "because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19).

Because He first loved us, love can look in the face of it's oppressors, and pray fervently... Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing. Love can cherish every moment, as if it were it's very last. Love can weep on the ground in the middle of the driveway, in the arms of a child who cannot understand why things happen the way that they do. At times, love has no words, yet its power abounds in the silence. Love can smile as a three year old child giggles in the midst of everyone else's sadness. Love can laugh as she brushes her little fingers across its cheek and with compassion, tells the tears to stop falling. Love can hold on tightly, even though it hurts. Love can believe that there will be a moment in the future when the pain will subside. Love can hope for reconciliation and promise to never cease fighting for it. Love can look in the rear view mirror and see not the hard times, but the treasures that have manifested themselves because of them.

Love is from God, and God is love. Apart from God, we cannot truly love well. We can have fuzzy feelings, and do great things for each other, but we will never be able to experience the true power of love apart from the One who daily teaches us what love really is. God has shown us that the greatest measure of love knows no bounds; love is sacrifice. He has shown us how much He loves us, because He came to the earth as a man and gave everything He could trying to show us that we were missing the point. He let us spit on Him, and murder Him... all for the sake of love. This, we cannot deny, is a kind of love that none of us can say we have even come close to exemplifying. On that same note, I doubt that any of us could deny that this is the way that we would like to love others. And if we all internalized this fact, and asked God to help us love the way that He has loved us, I think our world would be a much more beautiful place. We would see God in our relationships, and in our service to others... for though "no one has seen God... if we love each other, God lives in us, and His love is brought to full expression in us."

And so, I'll end with that infamous "love" passage... that passage we all quote at weddings and read in Hallmark cards; that passage that describes a kind of love that admittedly, I have only just begun to understand.

"Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand it's own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice, but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, and is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance." 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Thursday, January 28, 2010

...even when my heart breaks

The last thing I wanted to communicate from my previous post is that fighting the battle is easy. If it were easy, or convenient, or glamorous, more people would do it. I tell you the truth that fighting the battle wrecks our hearts from the inside out, and in my case today, it makes us do things that we wish we didn't have to do. Ever.

Tonight, I feel extremely broken... humbled that God has chosen me to fight this battle, but still extremely broken. Tonight, I had to say goodbye to a family that means the world to me... a sister who I have grown to love just as if she were my very own, and each one of her four little children who looked me in the eyes and simply could not understand the implications of what was to come. I couldn't help but wrap my arms around Nimsi, the most precious of four year olds, and just squeeze her tightly as if letting go would make reality seem more realistic in my eyes. I didn't want reality tonight. I wanted to stay in that moment, wrapped in the arms of a four year old child. I wanted to prance around their trailer patio doing ballet dances with girls who would do anything to have dance lessons. We'd live happily ever after and create our own. I'd stay in that moment and never let it pass. Yes, I'd stay there forever, if I could.

I know that God is greater than my feelings, my emotions, and my heartache. Tonight as I looked my dear sister in the eyes and heard her explain to me what God had done through our relationship over these past few months, I was confronted with a mixture of pain and peace; love rushed through my body as I stood to tell her that I needed as many hugs as I could get before we eventually said goodbye. Goodbye is never easy, but the lessons that we have learned, together, will forever have a place in each of our lives.

My choice to fight the battle means that I walk away from a place in which I have learned what it means to truly love and to give my life to things that matter. It demands that I leave people like this precious family who have allowed me to share life with them. My heart is breaking more than it ever has before, but I am confident of one thing: this battle, this great adventure of following Christ is bigger than my pain. It is bigger than the things I will leave behind. My time here has served a great purpose, and though faith cannot see, I know that it hopes with everything that it has. Tonight, more than ever, I cling to hope.

Tonight, I put on my armor and I let the tears fall. It's okay that they fall, because I know God has great things in store for the future. And though I wrestle to believe that doing the right thing could hurt so badly, I cannot forget in the darkness of today that which I felt so peacefully yesterday while I was in the light. This battle is not mine to fight, but His. He knows what He is doing and simply asks that I do what He has asked me to do. With tears in my eyes, I place before Him every single treasure I have gained from this place, this family, this church, and these relationships. I do it in faith, knowing that His plans will be accomplished, and more importantly, that His plans are much greater than I could ever imagine.

Precious Father, I am the clay and you are the potter. I am the work of Your hands. Do that which is necessary to make me into the person that you have called me to be. Help me to respond in obedience. I promise to trust you, even when my heart breaks....


get in the battle...

In life, do you find yourself standing on the sidelines watching countless others rush ahead before you and fight the battle to obtain the things you wish that you yourself could have? You know... things like peace, love, great relationships, and even the fulfillment of your deepest desires and dreams?

Maybe you're feeling frustrated... you've found a uncomfortable kind of comfort in ceasing to dream, ceasing to try, or ceasing to pursue hope amidst your circumstances. You've convinced yourself that all you are, is all you will ever be; you'll never feel fulfilled, you'll never be happy, you'll never be loved, you'll never do anything great, you'll always hate your job, you'll never find your purpose for living. Truth be told, this is how so many in our world live their everyday lives. So many have ceased to FIGHT for that which can be theirs. So many have given in to defeat, complacency, and hiding on the sidelines when they should be courageously fighting for life... fighting for hope.... fighting to know God... fighting to encounter the truth... the list goes on.

I think this has touched me so deeply because as I was reading in 1 Chronicles 11 this morning, I saw this played out so beautifully. The story explains there was an army of men who were engaged in battle, and when they came to a field, "the troops fled." I imagine in my mind an open field, one that leaves the troops in a pretty vulnerable position. Think about it, if they enter the field, they could get hurt. They could be knocked down. They could be attacked and killed. I think we feel this way many times when we are faced with making a decision between "fight or flight." Moving forward in courage is risky, vulnerable, and potentially dangerous. Unfortunately for many of us, all we can see is the fear and we choose to retreat, just as these troops did. The risk is too great, we tell ourselves, and we will be scarred for life if we fail. In doing so, we have chosen comfort over adventure, and being "average" over living a life with purpose. Let's admit, we'd never willingly admit we want these kinds of things, but by our actions, we have inevitably chosen them and have no idea how to break free.

There is great hope, I know. The text says in verse 14 that while other troops fled, there were three mighty men who "took their stand in the middle of the field." They defended it, struck down their opponents, and watched as the LORD brought about a great victory. In our great inner battle choosing between fight or flight, I wish that more of us would choose to fight for the things that matter. I wish we would choose to fight against complacency, fight for love, fight to bring hope to those who need it, even if it means we stand vulnerably in the middle of field and must take our stand in the face of great danger and uncertainty. We must do things that don't make sense for the sake of love. We must leave behind great things to pursue that which is even greater. We must risk our lives for hope, even if we stand alone. This, I believe, is the key to living a victorious and meaningful life for God.

When we are faced with the decision between "fight" and "flight," I pray that we would be encouraged to fight and be empowered to believe that God does not ask us to fight alone. Perhaps the most important thing that we realize is that we CANNOT fight alone; we cannot attain victory without His strength and His love pouring out into our lives. Once we realize this, and we move forward in the strength that He alone can give us, we will find the greatest peace we have ever known. Even if He calls us to take our stand in the middle of a field and in the face of great risk and fear, we will know peace... we will know Him... and while we won't ever be safe in the way we have somehow convinced ourselves we should be, we will have true life... we will know love like we have never known it... we will have fought for the things worth fighting for. We will know our Creator and we will fight to love Him with everything we have. There is nothing else that we could ever need more than that.

So, get in the battle. With all that you have. Stand in the middle of the field and trust that God will bring the victory. You won't be sorry.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

a prayer for community

"All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had... there were no needy persons among them." The Book of Acts 4:32, 34

How can we even begin to comprehend a community in which there are "no needy persons" and people are one in spirit and purpose?

Oh, Father... my heart cries out for such a place. A place in which believers are brought together by their devotion and their intentional choice to be united together for the sake of You. What an example followers of Jesus would give to the world if we truly were marked by genuine love and compassion; if we did what what we said we'd do, or if, as Dorothy Day suggests, there was no difference between what we believed, what we said, and how we lived our lives.

Forgive us for failing to seek community, for failing to love each other, for failing to pursue hope amidst the chaos. Forgive us for not taking care of each other; for hoarding our possessions, our time, and our plans for ourselves, as if they were even ours to begin with.

Father, let us be marked by devotion... a kind of love that attests to the hope that You have given each one of us. Hope that cannot be found through empty wisdom, but from You alone. Let not our words be empty, but let them be matched by our community. Let us love others, and more importantly, let us love You. Amen.