Tuesday, December 28, 2010

When Sorrow and Joy Collide

It's been awhile.

Several books/movies/facebook notes (Sarah Albinson!)/my own life and experiences have got me thinking...

Life is more meaningful through trials--whether that be pain, sacrifice, risk, danger, illness...anything that you have to OVERCOME. Anything that we have to fight for, or fight through. Think about it. Evidence of this is everywhere. Guys want to be able to fight, in some way, for a girl. The joy of life is found to a greater degree when battling a life-threatening illness. My own gratefulness for my life and realization that God is truly my protector resulted from my recent car accident. And I have found that in my darkest times, through heartbreak and grief and pain and feeling overwhelmed, that I am able to worship God at a whole new level. My tears of anguish mix with tears of praise and hope and this immense joy that can only come from the Spirit. And for me, when I feel emotion, I often find meaning. I find a connection to my soul, that has the imprint of my Creator. He knows me intimately and can see and hear every tear I cry and every smile and laugh and pitter patter of my heart. How could someone, something, create me to do those things, to feel those things? And then for us to have the capacity to have those emotions intertwine just amazes me. We can experience sadness mixed with joy, pain and hurt with hope, anger with love...isn't it beautiful? Doesn't the sadness make the joy seem to overflow? Don't hurt and pain make hope brighter? Don't feelings of anger make the power of love stronger?

I think that's why Jesus's life, His story, is so meaningful...so beautiful. He had to overcome trials throughout his life, and then the ultimate trial--His sacrifice. And through this, he gave meaning to our lives! We sing about His death on the cross in both sorrow and joy. It is a mix of emotions that makes our heart stir and yearn and cry out. He DIED for our sake. For humanity in its entirety! And now we have freedom and joy and hope and peace in knowing that the Lord is with us and we do not have to fear for Jesus has OVERCOME the world. Whoa, what do you know, there's that word again. : )

This is all so counter-cultural.

Our society has a tendency to run away from any sort of calamity. We take pain killers; we run to the doctor to give us a quick fix for whatever is ailing us; we think we are messed up if it takes us longer than a couple weeks or months to get over an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend so we run to a therapist to see what's wrong with us and if they can give us some magic words that will heal us; guys sleep with the girls that are easy and then leave and the girls are left wondering what's wrong with them; we run to stores to buy things to cure our depression or feeling of emptiness...I could go on!

What if we embraced the fact that we are NOT abnormal for feeling these so-called "bad" feelings? What if they really aren't "bad" feelings at all? "Good" and "bad" are relative terms... What I think is, all these emotions that we have are emotions that God Himself has, and they are good. They are necessary. We must face these emotions that we deem negative and wrestle with them, pray through them, surround ourselves with friends and family that will speak truth and love into our lives. And we must seek out love, faith, hope, peace, joy, kindness, goodness...(I have almost completed the fruits of the Spirit so I might as well finish right? :) ) faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, patience...THROUGH these emotions that leave us down-trodden. There, we can find real healing. We can begin to find meaning to this crazy existence. We can be more like Christ, and therefore have a better understanding of His life and the meaning of His story in our own stories that we are creating.

So, what if we were more courageous?
We didn't run away from trouble?
We didn't hide?
We didn't take the easy way out?
We didn't make light of our hurting?
We allowed our heart to truly open up to the great Healer?
We allowed our heart to truly open up to the people around us?

What if....

Monday, October 4, 2010

"To be mature is to be basic. Christ! No more, no less."

I love the writing of "The Message"....this is Colossians 1:15-29....I have nothing more to say. Just read and be encouraged/blessed/changed/convicted by Paul's words...

Christ Holds It All Together
15-18 We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God's original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.

18-20 He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he's there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.

21-23 You yourselves are a case study of what he does. At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got. But now, by giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God's side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence. You don't walk away from a gift like that! You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned in to the Message, careful not to be distracted or diverted. There is no other Message—just this one. Every creature under heaven gets this same Message. I, Paul, am a messenger of this Message.

24-25 I want you to know how glad I am that it's me sitting here in this jail and not you. There's a lot of suffering to be entered into in this world—the kind of suffering Christ takes on. I welcome the chance to take my share in the church's part of that suffering. When I became a servant in this church, I experienced this suffering as a sheer gift, God's way of helping me serve you, laying out the whole truth.

26-29 This mystery has been kept in the dark for a long time, but now it's out in the open. God wanted everyone, not just Jews, to know this rich and glorious secret inside and out, regardless of their background, regardless of their religious standing. The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God's glory. It's that simple. That is the substance of our Message. We preach Christ, warning people not to add to the Message. We teach in a spirit of profound common sense so that we can bring each person to maturity. To be mature is to be basic. Christ! No more, no less. That's what I'm working so hard at day after day, year after year, doing my best with the energy God so generously gives me.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

...with roots that reach deep into the water...

To those of you that have asked about my student teaching, I usually don't sugarcoat it.

It's rough. I can't describe to you what I have to deal with and manage every day. I can't explain the stress and pressures and the discipline I have to constantly enforce. I asked for the challenge of IPS and often I wonder why I did. I come back to questions like, "What made me want to teach an inner city school in the first place? Where is God in this? Where is the light in this place and in this screwed up system? Is the strain of the day really worth the little I end up teaching that day? Do these kids see my love for them underneath the discipline? AM I even loving them like Christ would when I feel I get so frustrated with them?"

And then I've had a lot of talks with my roommate Sarah about life and the profession we chose...We ask and attempt to answer questions like "Why are we even teaching these subjects when there doesn't seem to be any lasting value? What are we doing with our lives? How is this a ministry when we feel we can't even talk with our students about life and love and faith and the things that matter in this life? Instead she talks about music and she directs the band, and I'm teaching the short "o" sound in words like "mom," and "rock," and showing them how to write simple addition equations. Looking at the big picture, it seems kind of pointless. I struggle with feeling like I need to be doing something more or something else. Something that will draw people into the love of Christ I've found. Something that I can tangibly see results from...

But then I remember, I can. You can do that in any profession you choose. I can and I have shown Christ's love, despite or even through the way I treat discipline problems, the way I've chosen to eat lunch with students in order to get to know them better, the way I praise and show excitement and joy when they get an answer right or demonstrate good behavior. I hope and pray they see the light within me and are impacted by that light. And I can and I have seen tangible results. Maybe not a life dedicated to following Christ or even a "thank you" for any efforts I put forth, but I see my students learning and understanding new things every day and I see them beginning to read and understand how words form and I take for granted how cool of a process that is. And that I am necessary in that process! Even though I can't see the big picture of their lives, every stepping stone to get where they're going is essential...and I have a chance of putting those stepping stones in place.

So, I can do that anywhere...so...why IPS? Do I feel God leading me to an inner city school or was I trying to prove something to myself or to others? That I could handle the challenge?
I don't know...but I do know that I cried on my way home from Open House night because 5 parents showed up to the classroom and I heard stories and imagined the homes of others and mourned for the state of the county, the city, the world...I've heard two kids say the phrase "once my mom gets her food stamps..." and I have no doubt the majority of the class is living in poverty.
So, why teach in the inner city? Because these kids don't have parents who are also "teachers" like my parents were and a lot of suburban parents are. I don't think I want to teach in a place that has highly invovled parents, because I feel my role would not be as significant.

But then I question, could I do this day in and day out for years and years while still feeling healthy and sane...and then maybe add a family to that equation later on? I don't know, in all honesty. I wish I could. Maybe I could. But could or would God call me to a school like this and how would I know if he did?

Is the test of knowing God's calling simply that we are enjoying what we're doing and where we're living and feeling content, or does the test of knowing His calling mean living uncomfortably and maybe even a little miserably, yet going and doing and serving in a place a lot of people don't really want to be? Does anybody even really want to be where they're at or are we always going to long for somewhere else or something else? Am I being too idealistic, or are we supposed to find that place, that profession, that person, that church body that just feels "right"? That feels like the perfect fit? Or do we have to wait until God restores the earth back to the way it was before the Fall to really truly feel "right" with ourselves and our surroundings? I guess maybe if we strive to live out God's kingdom on the earth we can come close, but until everything is restored again (which I cling to the promise of in Revelation), life is gonna suck. It's going to be toil and strain and heartache and disaster and sickness and hopelessness, and questioning without any real answers just like I'm doing now...

But there's hope. There's so much hope if we cling to God's promises. If we just trust. I feel like I've been really busy with school and hanging out with friends in Indy and I just keep moving and moving and haven't taken much time to stop and pray or read or get in touch with myself and with God. I feel like I have to relearn that actually. I have to continually relearn that practice because I have been so inconsistent in it. But I love how in the places I've felt the most connected to God, I've journaled, and through those old journal entries, I rediscover myself and am reminded what God was teaching me. This is from Jeremiah 17:5-10. I had written it down in this journal entry from the end of March and it was an encouragement to me today : )

"But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit."

I want to be one of those trees...

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Dichotomy of Christianity

I am frustrated. I am frustrated with two sides of the church and of “Christianity” being lived out today.

Firstly, I am frustrated with the way in which many Christians try so hard to completely separate themselves from culture, catering to other Christians and condemning everything labeled or called “secular.” We should instead come to the realization that we are a part of culture—not some separate entity. Culture influences us and we have the ability to influence culture. I am frustrated with many aspects of the church and of Christianity that I’m just now seeing as I’m gaining a new perspective on the things I’ve grown up with. I’m realizing aspects of “Christian culture” that have little to do with Jesus and his teachings and more to do with a man-made idea of how Christians should live and act. And it’s caused me to feel weirdly separated and distant from friends who did not attend weekend youth group retreats that left me with “spiritual highs” (wasn’t it mostly an emotional high?), who didn’t listen to the Newsboys and Relient K, who didn’t read books by Donald Miller, who watched R-rated movies, etc. I have felt this discomfort for much of my life, yet I haven’t questioned it. I have felt like I must live a certain way because it was the good Christian thing to do and I was setting an example, being a light, yet I kind of hated it. I hated it because I didn’t quite understand why I was living the way I was living for some time. I hated it because I think I was afraid to dig deeper, to converse with friends, to tell people what was important to me and what I was experiencing on the inside, and to question the lifestyle in which I was living. I hated feeling separate from the world, even though it was drilled into me that I needed to be. I often compromised and I was hypocritical because I felt I was in a tug of war match between Christianity and the world and I didn’t see how they intersected.

Now, much more mature in my faith and understanding, with more wisdom which I attribute to the Holy Spirit working in me, I realize this life has little to do with following doctrines and it has everything to do with following Jesus. I feel I am not living a certain way because of a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” that stem from any sort of creation of man or the church, but I live a certain way because God has called me to it. Because through a crazy miracle that I don’t understand, God has given me a spirit that guides me into light and truth and life, convicts me of sin and things not of God, and steers me on the path I am supposed to walk on. I choose to live my life the way I do because my purpose is to do everything for his glory. Because I have read stories from Jesus’ life on Earth where he engages with the culture around him and chooses to love the unloved and calls us to have the faith of a child. THAT is where my heart lies. And if that is what Jesus is about, then sign me up. I do not want to be associated with a church that condemns homosexuals; that says you can only listen to Christian music and read Christian books; that says you shouldn’t question your faith; that keeps building bigger buildings and making dumb Christian bumper stickers; that holds to a certain political standpoint. I want to be associated with a church that loves and welcomes homosexuals into its doors; that recognizes the beauty and truth that come from artists and singers and writers and poets that don’t proclaim to be Christian or become part of a Christian industry; that says let’s have a class to explore other religions; that accepts those who doubt or have questions; that meets in an abandoned building because they want to give any money and resources they have to doing ministry; that says I don’t give a damn if you love or hate Obama and the direction this country is moving.

But I am also equally frustrated with people who call themselves Christians yet their lifestyle doesn’t bear good fruit, doesn’t show that they seek to live in a way that is glorifying to God. Yes, sin can still entangle us and we have forgiveness and grace if we mess up, but in Christ we are no longer a slave to sin. I didn’t swear or drink or party or have sex back in middle school and high school mainly because I was taught that it was bad for Christians to do and I was trying to maintain an image, a reputation as a Christian, not quite really knowing why, and always being a little curious and frustrated that I couldn’t experience things that the world offered me. Now, after some years of maturing in my understanding of what being a Christian means and exploring the why’s of this religion I’ve adopted, the things I choose to do and say do not stem from a legalistic religion I follow, but from who I am. I am a new creation in Christ. But I am human. I fail. I am not perfect. However, the way I live my life flows out of a desire to honor God, because in this, I find the most truth and freedom and beauty and love and peace. Jesus overcame the law. We have been redeemed. Some Christians and churches set in place remind me a lot of the Pharisees in the Bible, and I hate that. Yet, we shouldn’t dismiss all legalism just because we have been redeemed from it. For example, I had a pre-conceived notion that it was terrible to swear and that non-Christians swore and Christians don’t. Now, I see things a little differently and things aren’t so black and white. But I see why that was taught to me originally—because God’s word tells us to tame our tongue. That our tongue is the sharpest sword. That we can either bring life or death through our speech. That we can bring light or darkness to a person’s life. Now, nowhere does it say don’t use the word “shit.” That’s the Christian culture I’ve come from, not from the Bible. Paul even says in Philippians 3:8: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish (or the Greek word skubala, which best translated means “shit”), in order that I may gain Christ.” But by throwing the word around meaninglessly or by cursing God and others through my language, I am definitely not bringing about truth and life and goodness. And I believe it can make others stumble or corrupt my own thoughts. Words have power. Words are attached with the witness of a Christian life. Words flow out from what you inwardly think and feel and want to express and proclaim to the world.

Another example: God condemns drunkenness. Thus, the church at large (for the most part), condemns drunkenness. (Clarification--not people who are drunks, or who occasionally get drunk, but drunkenness.) This is not some rule that the church made up like you can only listen to Christian music. It is written in the Bible, many times, among passages of Jesus’ teachings and parables and miracles. It is something that was written for us for our own sake. God’s teachings are wise and bring life to us, rather than destruction and confusion. I think this passage (Galatians 5:16-21) most clearly states what I’m trying to get at:

“16But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

And this last part, frankly, upon first read, I hate. Taken out of the context of the entire Bible, it seems that those people who do these things will never inherit the kingdom of God. Yet, we know that God’s grace covers all sin if we choose to accept it, so why would this be in the Bible? It seems like there is no grace. But notice verse 18 says, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” It’s this crazy, awesome, confusing paradox in a way. Jesus was not about legalism and we don’t need to live by all the laws that are stated in the old testament books because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, yet because the Spirit indwells in us and fills us, we are led inwardly to follow the law that Jesus proclaimed and to stay away from sin that can entangle us and lead us astray. We will not inherit the kingdom of God—which exists both here and in heaven—if we choose to engage in those sins rather than accept God’s generous gift to us—His Spirit, which leads us into life. I think a synonymous last sentence of verse 21 could be “I warn you, as I warned you before, if you don’t accept the life that my Spirit is able to give to you, you will be lead into misery and death. So accept this blessing!” That’s what I look at the Spirit and its leading into righteousness as—a magnificent blessing.

While I hate the separatism that happens between Christians and the culture we are surrounded by, I also hate when Christians go the other direction and succumb to the largely corrupted culture that we live in rather than try to create, as God did when he created the world, truth and beauty and purity and goodness, and to wear on our sleeve the fruits of the spirit. I think either we try to completely get away from culture, from the world, and then lose our ability to witness and minister and co-exist with people of different backgrounds and beliefs and personalities and socio-economic levels, or we completely get away from the Christian subculture and then slowly drift away from the teachings of Christianity and into the lifestyles and pressures of the world because we hate too much to be different or look different or think there's no way we can have an influence on culture.

This is the dichotomy of Christianity. This will no doubt frustrate me the rest of my life. But I’m so glad I have gained so much clarity this summer, and I am so glad I was able to write out a lot of what has been stirring within me.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Living Life Together

My perspective is changing outside of the Christian bubble that is Taylor. Funny how that happens (...not really). As great as I think Taylor is and as much as the people there have blessed me and the integration of faith in my education has blessed me, I am very much aware (especially now) that Taylor's campus is far far far from the real world. And even though their doctrine is solid and the school is so focused on community and global engagement, there's no way it can be understood from learning about these things through chapel speakers or classes or even short-term missions. Which makes me more ready/excited to be done when I thought I would never want to leave...

My internship with The Mercy House in which communal living is at the center, reading Shane Claiborne's "The Irresistible Revolution," plus this Life Together Conference I attended at Englewood Community Church in Indianapolis this weekend have begun to transform my perspective of what "church" means and what being a Christian looks like.

Though my fellow interns and I joked about all the "buzz words" that were used during this conference (and they definitely were a little annoying after hearing them all day), they are definitely SO important in beginning to peg down what Christian living involves. Those key ideas/words include: "community," "communal/mutual discernment," "stability," "peace-making" (rather than peace-faking and peace-breaking), "stubborn loyalty," "humility," "branching," "engagement," "missional," and last but certainly not least, "reconciliation" (I wish I had tallied how many times this word was said).

In some ways I feel I am becoming so liberal and hippyish, which I think is kind of funny coming from a large Evangelical church and conservative background. I can't deny that it gave me a great foundation in my faith, and I definitely still hold to the doctrine of the Bible, to the Apostle's Creed, to the gospel message... Yet, I'm feeling now I'm better seeing the gospel message for what it is.

After reading "The Irresistible Revolution," I now consider myself a pacifist. My heart now breaks for our nation's "enemy"--the Iraqui people (children in particular, as my heart goes out for all children everywhere). And while I still fully believe that as Christians we must strive for righteous living, I am seeing the error of my ways in judging another's life and whether they are living "righteously" rather than accepting them and loving them for who they are. I'm realizing my love and my own committment to Christ has the potential of pointing them to Christ and his commandments, and discipleship flows forth from love.

I'm realizing service projects and short-term missions are not enough. I'm realizing church is not just a place Christians go to be fed Sunday mornings (which I did for 2 years at The Mercy House). I'm realizing that people driving in and out of church Sunday mornings isn't really doing anything for the body of Christ. I'm realizing all of the downsides of megachurches (spending money on building projects that could go to people who need it, people driving in and not getting involved with one another or in outreach to the community, the fact that people become numbers, the emphasis solely on preaching the gospel to convert people, etc.) I'm realizing the good in churches branching and being planted in other areas when they become too large. And when I previously held this notion of "how can I be a light in this dark world," I'm realizing I don't have to fear because there are so many people in this world seeking just this--community with one another in an effort to bind together the body of Christ and to push TOGETHER to make the things we dream about a reality. This still overwhelms me, especially as I see all the poverty and depression in Anderson and feeling kind of hopeless, as I realize how broken not only this town is, but the whole world--even (maybe especially) suburbia. But we dream and we pray and we act--together--to do the best we can to live out what Jesus has called us to...


Some great ideas/thoughts/questions I wrote down from the conference this weekend:

-Communal discernment--take questions to the church body rather than make individual decisions/Consensus decision making--we are EQUAL in Christ (the "head pastor" doesn't have final authority)

-"Either the church exists for itself or it doesn't exist at all"

-Eating meals together (simple, but so life-giving...and Jesus and his disciples ate all their meals together. the idea was brought forth that maybe Jesus meant eating the bread and wine "in rememberance of me" meant even that we should eat and drink PERIOD in rememberance of Jesus...though i'm not sure i'm in agreement with that and it sounds heretical, it's an interesting discussion topic...)

-How do we create a place of stability when we are called to places of instability?

-Mutual submission--being humble enough to say "I don't know" and joining together, working through the issue in humility

-Stubborn loyalty--you become stubbornly loyal to the guy sitting next to you that believes something completely different than you

-"It's hard work to get people to be vulnerable when vulnerability has hurt them in the past."

-"Be in it for the long haul. Our actions over time will bear witness."

-"You must first be reconciled as a church body, THEN push reconciliation beyond the church. The church must be a reconciled body in order for God to use us to reconcile the world."

-"Empty self so you can be filled with the fullness of God" (idea coming from Philippians 2)

-BALANCE! "You can't continue to do the work of the kingdom of God if you don't rest"

-"Live day after day seeking the kingdom and we will get caught up in the sufferings of Christ...we don't have to be 'heroic' [to suffer like Christ]."

-Communities are never stable--they grow and break--but if they are rooted, they will continue on

-"If we were free agent individual Christians, we couldn't do nearly as much. We need to bind ourselves to one another and to Christ through coming together as a church body. We need to bind each other to PEOPLE more than to a plot of land."


So what?

So...this inspires me to be more than a church-goer and a "good" Christian the rest of my life. More than a classroom teacher 5 days a week (if that's what I end up doing). More than a person who maybe serves in a soup kitchen once a week. More than a person who goes on another short-term missions trip somewhere. This inspires me to dream big. To partner with a church to provide tutoring or maybe music education to kids who need it/want it. To invite children into my home and give them meals and love and care. To hold a Bible study or book club or just have tea and listen to music and talk about life in my home with my neighbors (whether churched or unchurched) and members of the church body. The possibilities and the opportunities for deep and rich community and discipleship are endless...

And I decided one thing for sure: I never want to live alone. While I feel I fluctuate between introvert and extrovert, I love people. I need people. And I'm realizing...people need me. And sometimes I underestimate what I can give to other people through the blessings and gifts God has given me.

And I LOVE living in this broken, eclectic, messy, gender-mixed house community in Anderson, IN and getting to know people at The Mercy House who have this very vision of reconciliation at the heart of its mission and doctrine.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

junior year reflection

I just erased 631 words I had written a couple weeks ago of a reflection of this year because I just wasn’t satisfied with it. And now I keep writing things and erasing them. I don’t know what my problem is. But I know I need to write to process this year. And I really want to publicly share it because it’s been a significant year in my life in a lot of ways.

Though particular events and happenings first semester are a bit blurry (I have a horrible memory), if I could describe me that semester I would say fearful, and striving…but for what? When my social life used to pretty much trump my grades (hey, as long as I keep a 3.2 I keep my academic scholarship so why work for a 4.0? was my philosophy), I worked harder than I ever have before and ended up with straight A’s. Yeah, I felt accomplished and my parents were proud of me, but at the end of that semester I remember talking to Lorah and feeling unsatisfied. I wondered what had changed in me and why I had become more school-focused than people-focused. And I don’t think I realized then, at that point of reflection, what I realize now. I was hiding behind my schoolwork. I felt safe; I felt in control. At the beginning of the semester I sought out community, relationships, being deeply involved in ministries…and God worked in my heart so much during spiritual renewal week in September. And I’m not sure what happened…maybe a series of events, or maybe it was me just trying to shut out God...trying to turn off the fire within me because I didn't know exactly what to do with it…but at some point in the semester, I just closed myself off. I don’t know if people noticed, and it wasn’t like I consciously made this decision, but I did close myself off. I kept myself at a safe distance so I wouldn’t get hurt, so life wasn’t messy, so I could shy away a little bit from vulnerability. Schoolwork was simultaneously like a defense mechanism and source of pride. And I remember striving in other areas…striving to be a good small group leader by having thoroughly laid out discussion questions and often stressing over having everything prepared and assigning Bible passages to read...striving to maintain a busy schedule when I didn’t even want my life to be scheduled at all…

Then I got on a plane and found myself several hours later in Ethiopia. It was amazing, and I have a whole other blog/note attributed to that trip so I will spare the details. But God transformed me there…I felt exposed and I couldn’t hide behind anything. He forced me out of this fearful mentality and allowed me to experience his love and grace and beauty through relationships, through His creation, through making music for Him. And I wasn’t striving on my own accord; I was finally letting God work through me. It was a daily surrender of control.

Going into second semester, I had so much to process about the whole experience. I also had zero motivation for school and seriously wondered how I would make it through the semester when all I wanted to do was go back to Ethiopia. I knew this would be a challenging semester academically and my thematic unit for Methods loomed in the very near future. The good thing was, I had learned lessons in Ethiopia about giving up control and of living fearlessly, knowing that whatever was to come, God would be with me. And He was. It was far from easy to give Him control, to live life without fear and worries. Did I always succeed at that? Heck no. But when I did let go and trust, there was this amazing freedom in it. And when I chose to listen to God's leading, I found peace. This semester was hard. Painful. I dealt with a lot of sickness. I hated a couple of my classes, and I didn’t end up with straight A’s. Small group sessions often became “We’re just going to talk about life.” I didn’t ever get over to the nursing home this semester...

But give me second semester over first any day. Why? Because I stopped fearing, I stopped striving, I risked, I loved, I laughed a whole lot more, I cried a whole lot more, I was vulnerable and also allowed myself to listen more to other people, I didn't do things because I felt it was the good Christian thing to do, and I started to learn to discern my own voice from God’s.

Right now, I am excited about life. As much as I love Taylor, I am excited to be away from the Taylor subculture for awhile. I am excited to live in a community of people whom I don’t know or don’t really know well at all. I am excited for the spiritual challenge this summer will bring. I am excited for the challenge student teaching will be in the fall, especially in an IPS school. I am excited to find an apartment and live in Indy with two close friends. And I am excited for the journey ahead. Why? Because it’s out of my hands. : )

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Ethiopia: Here I am...use me.

To anyone who has asked me the question, "How was Ethiopia?", first of all, thank you for caring, acknowledging and remembering that I was halfway across the world for a month. But I hope you know that I can't answer that in a word or in a sentence. I've mostly been saying "amazing"...which is the most accurate word I can come up with...but completely insufficient.

Here’s a breakdown of what we did while we were there:

A team of 19 of us went to Project Mercy in Yetabon, Ethiopia where we divided into pairs to teach English to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders at Project Mercy’s school of 1800 students. I taught with my teaching partner, Adam, under a tree, in weather that ranged in the 70s (while the rest of you were freezing your butts off. Yeah I’m gonna rub it in), with a small portable chalkboard and whatever teaching supplies we could muster up. We had 6 classes a day (2 first grade, 2 second grade, and 2 third grade), each for 45 minutes and with about 10-15 students in each class. About 70 of these 1800 K-12 students are “House Kids,” orphans that live on Project Mercy’s compound. We got especially close to those kids as we played with them every day after school or on weekends, sat with them at meals, taught them in class, or tutored them.

The first Saturday we hiked at Crater Lake, some of us going down a pretty steep and treacherous path to touch the water. We took two more long (about 5 hour) hikes in the mountains that surrounded Project Mercy –the first to a waterfall, the second to an Orthodox Church and then some of us went up to the top of the mountain. I felt I was in a constant state of awe and praise as I hiked, not even believing that this was real life and I wasn’t dreaming.

What ended up being a pretty large part of our ministry too, besides teaching and building relationships with the House Kids, was performance of music and drama. Kayla and I brought our guitars and Heidi brought her violin, so we led worship on numerous occasions. We also prepared multiple skits before coming, some which I was a part of, and three of them—without any words—displayed the gospel message to the people. (Ethiopia is a pretty evenly divided country between Muslims and Christians. The House Kids all attend a Christian church Sunday mornings, but 95% of Yetabon is Muslim, so a majority of our students were Muslim.) We had the opportunity to perform our music and drama multiple times—in church services on their Christmas (January 7) and 3 Sunday morning services; a special performance for the House Kids; at our “American Day” assembly for the whole school; and at our final bonfire with the House Kids.

I also had the opportunity of giving an eighth-grader named Ashenofi a couple guitar lessons, I led a young girls’ Bible study with Brittany after school, typed a couple high school final exams for teachers, led worship during team meetings, and had my first star-tripping experience. J And every night we came together as a team after dinner and had a time of devotionals (led by a different member of the team every night) and prayer, planned our lessons for the next day in a room full of construction paper, crayons, balloons, and just utter chaos, and laid on the basketball court with our heads in a circle looking up at the wide expanse of stars. It was glorious.


I wish words and pictures could capture my experience. I want desperately to go back there someday and take with me those that I dearly love. I was saddened by the poverty and the lack of progress in that country. My students would come to school with the same faded and ripped clothes and shoes (if they had shoes) every day. And as we discovered on our hikes, many students came from tukuls (huts) on the mountains and would have to leave in the morning for school, making the maybe 1 or 2 hour hike down in the dark, some without shoes. These children had flies crawling on their faces and bodies from living with their animals and very rarely, if ever, bathing. And yet, when it came down to it, in a lot of ways they were no different than kids in America. They roared with laughter while we played with balloons to teach colors, there were the classic jokesters in every class, and they went crazy over play-doh and stickers.

I was spiritually refreshed and renewed by the joy, generosity, beauty, and simplicity of the people and the country. I was challenged as a teacher and undoubtedly have become a better teacher through teaching 6 classes of non-English speaking students every day and trying to figure out the best and most effective way of getting the material across to them. I was taken out of my comfort zone in leading worship and acting in the dramas (I almost didn’t even take my guitar with). And I think most importantly I was taught a lesson in love and what it looks like to love from my interactions with the House Kids and from seeing my team’s love and devotion and time spent with those precious children. This may sound cheesy, but it’s true: it was like a little glimpse of heaven on earth. One memory I will forever hold in my heart is the memory of walking a young boy, Solomon, who was in one of my third grade classes, back to the house after the bonfire. I asked him to sing me his favorite song, and he sang it first in Amharic (the primary language at Project Mercy and in the capital), and then in English, and it went something like “I love you Jesus (repeated), I hold you in my heart.” A simple song, but one of the most beautiful things I had ever heard. We sung it together as we walked back that night, and it’s something I’ll always cherish.

It’s sad how quickly this whole experience can just kind of vanish from your mind. I felt like I was in a different world for a month, so coming back here was…weird. My transition has been pretty difficult, and I’m still not adjusted or motivated for the semester, but I think that will come in time. It’s crazy how things that have impacted you so much you can just put aside and just totally compartmentalize. I talked about going shopping in Chicago over J-term break and using my Forever 21 gift cards. My mom’s reaction was “wow, I thought you would say you wouldn’t want to shop after an experience like that.” I responded that I guess I caught the shopping bug again. I am shocked now at what I said. But I hadn’t yet processed the experience. I hadn’t yet brought it back here and learned from it and took what I saw and felt and experienced and did something about it. So now that I’ve done a little more processing this week, I have realized the lessons I learned in Ethiopia. I pray to God that they stay with me and become evident in my life from now to forever.

1. Live without fear…God will step in and take care of everything
2. Love without holding back. It was so hard to leave those kids after investing so much of ourselves into them and them into us, but it was worth it. Our ministry was effective because we aimed to love to the extent that Jesus loved.
3. I cannot be fulfilled with man’s praise. Seek out only the affirmation that comes from God’s word and you will conquer any feelings of inadequacy. I know now that He alone has the ability to satisfy, strengthen, and bless me.
4. “I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13 I never believed so fully in that verse before as I continually stepped out in faith and surrendered what I thought my limitations were.
5. I don’t need anything of this world. "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal." Matthew 6:19

Lastly, I want to say a heartfelt THANK YOU to those who thought about and prayed for me and my team this January. God truly took care of us and blessed our time there, proving Himself faithful again and again. I would love to share more stories or answer any questions you have, so please seek me out! Also, pictures are up on facebook! : )

Thanks for taking the time to read.

Love love love,