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.