Impossible beauty from volcanic ashes

Beauty from ashes

I have a hard time grasping the reality of the phrase, “He makes beauty from ashes.”

If you’ve been through the fire and all you really do see around you is ashes, then your soul feels burnt and deadened.

Seems to me that seasons of ashes can’t really coexist with beauty.

But then I had a very eye-opening encounter recently. And that happened in a place where there is only beauty, no ashes, surrounding me — Hawaii.

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Not to make you jealous or anything, but Hawaii has got to be hands-down the most spectacular, radiant, glorious place on earth. And it’s not just one kind of beauty; it’s a wide diversity of everything from white sandy beaches, to towering waves, to staggering cliffs, to brilliant coral reefs, to jungle forests, to commanding landscapes. And it all takes place in about 80 degrees of weather — all year round.

Now I know you want to go there, I loved my time there, and people all around the world talk about visiting there. This little, tiny speck in the Pacific Ocean has everyone a spectator and counting down the days until a live encounter.

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However, Hawaii wasn’t always paradise. During a short educational film we watched before going to Hanauma Bay to snorkel in the coral reef, I learned how the Hawaiian Islands actually came to be.

Beneath the surface of the islands is what is called a “hot spot.” If you remember anything from 7th grade Earth Science, you’ll recall that the Earth’s outer crust is made up of tectonic plates. Sometimes volcanos will form in the middle of a plate where magna rises until it erupts on the sea floor — this is the hot spot. The Hawaiian Islands were formed by such a hot spot occurring in the middle of the Pacific Plate. While the hot spot is fixed, the plate is moving. So, as the plate moved over the hot spot, one by one the string of islands were formed.

How utterly fascinating.

Volcanos produced islands.

Ashes scripted beauty.

Destruction prophesied redemption.

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I was thinking about this as I was snorkeling in Hanauma Bay. This particular bay was created from a volcanic explosion which created a crater and all the sediment from the destruction settled into the bay which made this perfect environment for a coral reef. And how beautiful the brightly colored coral fish were. And how perfect the sand and hot the sun.

What this nature story is telling is even deeper than first impressions (you know, the seemingly cliché “All things work together for good” stuff).

You see, this beautiful, perfect island was formed after time and time again of volcanic eruption. Again, and again, and again. The magma rising, the sediment building, volcanic bursts, and, after a long time, this paradise place started peeking out into the pacific ocean — much to it’s own surprise, I’m sure.

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But what about us?

Moving away from this paradise, let’s look at our own hell, our own volcanos, our own life explosions. I get it — life isn’t easy, there’s hard times, there will be pain, and somehow we become better people through it.

But what really irks me is the “Really? Again??”

When your own history repeats itself. When you can’t shake the despairs of the past. When you think you’ve healed and then something seemingly minor (or major) triggers something too deep in your mind and emotions, and it’s the same story, like nothing has changed.

The magna rises.

The sediment builds.

When pain comes steamrolling through your door, it’s not just dealing with that pain. It’s having to relive all the other ones that happened previously. People may say, directly or indirectly, “Ok, let’s heal already. It’s time to move on,” because they can only see that isolated experience. When someone has deep wounds and scars, it’s literally harder to move on each time because you have to relive each previous one and they stack up uncaringly. Now it’s not just getting over this pain; it’s getting over 2, or 5, or 10. It keeps building up. Each time it gets harder, and more seemingly impossible. And I think, “I can’t take one more thing, go through this experience one more time.” The future is terrifying, because the choice to live is this risk, and full expectation, that this just may happen again. Some way or another.

The magna rises

The sediment builds.

I think of friends who are going through deep waters, trials that keep repeating so much it hurts my heart. A beautiful couple and good friends of mine who have recurring pregnancy loss and have gone through the loss of 5 babies already. Another friend who lost her mom to cancer as a child, lost her dad to cancer in the past year, and now received the news that her fiancé at age 26 is diagnosed with cancer just 3 months before their wedding. My aunt who lost her dad to a car accident years ago, and then her 3 month old grandson 5 years ago, and how her own 30 year old son several months ago.

It’s not just the one time. It’s the repetition. Over and over and over again.

Once again.

The magna rises.

The sediment builds.

I felt resilient years ago. Obstacles and hurts didn’t have much of a past behind it, so I was able to jump back pretty quickly. But each deep hurt is like losing a limb. Go through it once, and sure, you can keep walking ahead. But 3-4 times? All you can do is lay limb-less on the ground with hardly the will to live again.

And we all have those, “Again, God??” moments. When will I ever learn that living and loving means losing everything? How in the world am I supposed to help other people when I’m incapable of controlling myself when I am at my weakest point? I can’t even think or accomplish things. I can’t even communicate with God. God, I can’t. I can’t. I have nothing to offer. I’m lost.

The magna rises.

The sediment builds.

And then…

What is that, peeking through the surface?

Is that something green, something alive, something …. beautiful?

Can’t be. Because I know that all there was before was destruction and ashes.

But something’s rising, something … new. Totally new. Shockingly new.

What once was a calm sea is now this attention-drawing island. And with such variety. Depth. Creativity.

The magna rose.

The sediment built.

And paradise bloomed.

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That corner of the ocean would never be the same again.

And that’s the hard part too. We can’t ever go back. Ever. After all the things that we have gone through, we cannot reach back into the past and regain our innocence, the times of a simpler life, the heart that is unshattered.

You see, God’s not creating the next better version of the Pacific Ocean. He’s actually building a whole new island.

He doesn’t make things better. But he does make things new.

Because that’s what love does.

New things

This ocean would never be the same. It had to accept the change. It lost one thing to gain another. Redemption is actually written into creation.

And what’s incredible about Hawaii? I get to enjoy this because something a long time ago went through fire and destruction. And it turned into something beautiful that continues to give and attract people from all over the world.

Because beautiful things will attract attention. And every beautiful thing has a past that includes a lot of ashes.

I think … I think … I want to be like Hawaii.

And I think …. that has been God’s plan all along. But there comes a time of agreement, of “yes and amen.”

That means, though, I have to embrace the trial and fire and heat and hurt and pain. It’s part of the process, the journey, the sanctification.

When it’s all said and done, when something new is starting to burst out, the point isn’t what I lost. The point is what I gain. By losing what I had, by losing my claims to my life, I gain a new one, a fuller one.

Only Love can come up with a story like that.

Inside the lava-like fire are hurts and pains that we don’t understand or think we really deserved. Yet we recognize it. We receive it. And we proclaim “Amen”. In that seed planted, we in turn receive a harvest of righteousness.

And so our life becomes an island alleluia.

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To read more of the stories of my friends I mentioned above who are going through difficult but beautiful stories, read their blogs below:

Lindsay And David Blair – My Journey With Recurring Pregnancy Loss http://lindsayablair.com/2016/02/12/my-journey-with-rpl/

Bobbie and Ray – Neatly Wrapped Packages  https://jeanbobbi.wordpress.com/2016/02/18/neatly-wrapped-packages/ 

What Are We So Afraid Of?

The Strength Of Safety

I’ve been learning a lot about being safe. Inside safe. Emotionally safe. Only allowing influencers in my life who don’t emotionally use me and take advantage of my weaknesses. Sometimes it may even come down to, “I care about you, but I’m not safe around you. I need to leave.”

I’ve realized how very important it is to set up boundaries, to decide who is allowed to have access to my heart and who isn’t. There’s a sense of purpose and power in that, that I have a say and have control over my spirit.

I have the ability to make decisions about who speaks into my spirit.

Here is the irony though about this kind of safety–

When I am the most emotionally safe, I can walk into the most unsafe circumstances and be secure. and strong. and untouched. Because the circumstances around me don’t affect my sense of security. Even the people around me don’t have power to determine my safety.

I have one heart and one spirit that God has given it to me to steward. In deciding who gets to be close to me, it allows me to grow in love, and thus grow in safety. The more love I have capacity for, the more safe I am. The more safe I am internally, the more I am able to live freely externally without fear. This is because someone’s treatment of me in response to my open life doesn’t determine my sense of security, for good or bad.

Those who are most loved are most safe. They are the ones that help others become safe and loved.

Love and safe

The Dark Side Of Fear

On the flip side, those who are the most in fear are the ones who feel the most unsafe. They are always on the lookout to protect their own safety.

I know this all too well. The amount of fear I battle seems unreal. Many times I’ve been crushed under the weight of feeling unsafe. In those moments I have to step back and consider, “Why am I afraid? What is causing me to be unsafe and feel like I have to protect myself?”

Sometimes it’s been a relationship. It’s someone who I allowed to speak into me who I didn’t have any boundaries with that expressed verbal or emotional misbehavior towards me. In the fear cycle, I often look inward and take the blame, afraid to lose the relationship, and then I become very powerless and try to find a way to protect myself, which normally means trying to control that person or the atmosphere.

Sometimes it’s been in the work place. I’m afraid of someone finding out my mistakes, so I try to hide while I make everything perfect and presentable. Because if someone finds out I don’t have it all together then they will think less of me and I’m not valuable.

Sometimes it’s been in the community. I drive through the “rough” part of town and see lots of homeless people and drug use around. I’m afraid of feeling emotional for these people or getting taken advantage of, so I avoid even eye-contact with them.

Sometimes it’s been a national threat. After 911 my fear was controlled by whether or not there was a mosque in my town or by being in a plane with someone with tanner skin than I.

You see, if I’m afraid of something, I become powerless and lose control over myself, feeling the need to fight for the safety I feel threatened that I may lose. Because I have no internal safety keeping me steady.

The Source Of Security and Insecurity

But where does internal safety come from?

Love.

Where does internal unsafety come from?

Fear.

You know how powerful love is? Those who are the most steeped in love have the ability to live in the most unsafe, hazardous places. Not that they all do, but the power that makes it possible lives within them.

Because those external circumstances have no access to their heart, their source.

So if love rules our souls, if God (who is love inherently) is ruling, and the people we let speak into our souls are also reinforcing that same love, I dare say, what can we not do?

We can be powerful. We can reach further out. We can do seemingly scary things.

Because love leads us, not fear.

Since when were we promised external safety?

Never.

We ought to be the first to love when we have the most to lose. Because we count everything as loss compared to living in love like Christ and knowing him.

Love

It’s hard, because usually we’re afraid of what we don’t understand. Like those of a different religion. Or those of a different sexual lifestyle. Or those of different economic circumstances. Or those of a different color. Of those of a different culture.

I’m in the business world. I work with business owners and get to watch their fears play out. Why is it that the owners are typically afraid of the measly lower level employees?

Because when employees make suggestions for change, it means that the owner may lose something. Change isn’t good. When you’re in a place of privilege, change is threatening. Change causes fear, afraid that your position will be removed, that the safety net of money, power, and control will crumble around you.

This is normal for those who have lived in privilege, which, compared to the rest of the world, would be middle class Americans. Change is always threatening when you’re at the top and have nowhere to go but down.

Why is it that the under-privileged are the most open to change? Because they have something to gain from it. Because when you’re at the bottom you have nowhere to go but up.

So what’s the point?

When we look to our circumstances, and laws, and nations, and officials to set our compass for safety, we will always be afraid. Because we’re not ever in complete control of them.

However, when we live in a place of love, there cannot be fear. And we can accept an unsafe world. We can walk into an unsafe atmosphere knowing that we have a power residing within us that cannot be shaken.

So that’s why I ask,

What are we so afraid of?

You know what tempts me to be afraid?

Not Muslims. Not refugees. Not mass shootings. Not pro-abortion laws. Not marriage redefinition laws. Not pimps. Not Ebola.

What I’m afraid of is spending my whole life creating a paper mâché fortress around me so that I can be protected against the external evils of this world, living internally in bondage, chained to my own fear.

I’m afraid of not ever loving.

I’m afraid of not ever risking.

I’m afraid of not ever once looking like the real Jesus.

Lord, this Christmas give me the heart that would have been one of the shepherds that received you into this world. You were not just not from this country; you were not even from this world. 

Why in the world would I jubilantly sing about accepting a helpless baby in a manger with one hand raised, while pushing away a vulnerable refugee with the other hand?

Maybe we haven’t really received the vulnerable child in the manger yet? Maybe we only want the Jesus who reigns in power and judgment over the evil in this world and not the Jesus who was a meek, helpless baby?

Would we be the Herods of this generation that destroy all that threaten our outward sense of safety, position and control?

Or would we be the ones that welcome, yet even prize, the weak and vulnerable? and accept even the miraculous— because, seriously, a virgin having a baby is seriously threatening to my religious sense of right, wrong and possible.

Jesus went through the whole process. He came from a different culture, he was a newborn exposed to animal mess in a barn, he with his parents were vulnerable refugees, he was a child, a student, an apprentice, a laborer, a leader, a sufferer, a convicted criminal, a dead man, a resurrected King.

He can relate with he most powerless and with the most powerful in this world.

He is our only model. His humility is the only way for us to live. His safety is our only confidence. His love is the only thing that empowers us to love.

And his truth trumps every other opinion.

Let’s not react in fear. Let’s not be like Peter. When he saw that Jesus was threatened in the garden (and actually, Jesus was going to be killed. Seriously. He ended up dying), Peter took out his sword and tried to kill the threat. If we Christians were Peter, we probably would have pull out our concealed weapon and defended Jesus, killing as many threats around us as possible. Because this life is all about being safe and saving our lives, right?

Jesus would be like, “What in the world do you think you’re doing? If you live by killing threats, you’ll die in the same way. If you want to gain your life, you’re going to have to lose it. Hey hey hey, Peter, you realize I’m here? You’re safe. You don’t need to be afraid and react. Stop trying to save me. You need to let me go die. Oh, and just as a heads up, one day when you are most loving me and most safe in my will, you’re going to die by crucifixion.”

This totally blows my mind. The Gospel life is so full of paradoxes that it can only be believed by faith. It’s not natural. But in the kingdom, it’s totally normal.

Is our safety determined by our circumstances? Or is our safety from within, untouched, strong and unmovable?

Maybe we can be the ones who set the standard of love, who live in soul-safety, and who walk into unsafe places and welcome the unsafe ones, loving them into the kingdom.

I Can’t Seem To Find An Ideal Church

I’ve had this angst now for a while.

It’s just… this unsettled feeling when it came to church.

I knew I wanted something, or was looking for something, but I wasn’t really sure what it was.

To give you a little transparent background, I have to admit I had become pretty disenchanted with church, observing a lack of the intentional and humble pursuit of unity, diversity, and act-what-you-preach living.

The more I learned of God through the church, the more I learned his heart for all peoples and cultures and genders and races. And so I slowly began changing. While it was a very real and organic change, it was also intentional.

Yet that’s when I started observing something. The kind of life I was starting to live began to stand out.

As… exceptional.

But I thought this was normal? I thought this is what the church stood for, preached and worshipped about? Why would moving into a life that reflected that outside of the church walls be so abnormal?

Why did we gush about how amazing the sermon was about welcoming all people with open arms, no barriers, just as Christ has welcomed us, and then debate about withholding mission support from a Gospel-focused agency due to their different style of worship music? Or have a church gathering that was all the same color, intellect level, economic state and activities when the surrounding community and city did not reflect that ratio? Or preach and condemn sensual clothing and porn but then pass by the prostitute and doing nothing to care for her state of exploitation?

It had all been very confusing to me. I was learning one thing about the heart of God, and seeing another.

So I was trying to figure out this alignment of what I say and how I live

But even more than that, I was learning of God’s heart for his people to be unified, that we’d be known for love not fractions. 

So deep down I wanted that: a gathering of people that was unified and diverse; a place where the unity makes us attractive, but the diversity makes us beautiful.

But I just couldn’t find it. Why wasn’t there one group where all that was present?

Where was the unified, diverse, faith-in-action church?

And I thought the problem was that somewhere there was this ideal church where all these great, amazing beliefs collided together.

I thought it was hidden somewhere, out of sight, that perhaps every other church needed to find this one church and start acting like that one.

I wandered for a while, moving from church to church, staying long enough to partake, but not long enough to commit.

I kept searching for that one.

Praying, considering, waiting, Repeat.

Then tonight happened.

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The Pray Chicago gathering and movement. Where churches from all over Chicago came to pray for the peace and hope and Gospel-advance in the city.

It was some of the most normal, extra-ordinary moments I’ve ever had.

The guy next to me was an immigrant from Morocco. The couple in front of me was from South Side. We sang worships songs in several different languages. Leaders from the city read Scripture reading through John 17 in their native tongue: Romanian, Arabic, Spanish, Hindi, Mandarin, Tagalog, Hausa, to name a few.

Worship was extravagant and awe-some.

And I looked around me and literally saw the world.

Nations. Cultures. Races. Together and one. 

And we were not fragmenting. And we were real. Really caring and really acting and really believing.

And that’s when I realized it.

That I found it.

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 This is what I always wanted.

And this?

This is The Church.

This beautiful, mis-matched, imperfect, oh-so-glorious group.

Nothing matched, but we blended.

The unfamiliar languages were stark, but at the same time harmonious.

What typically are known as cultural barriers were points of celebration.

And it wasn’t just about the individuals. It was the collective parts of the city coming together as one to intercede to The One.

As the service ended, I sighed.

I just had a taste of heaven. 

And that’s what we’re here to do: pursue on earth as it is in heaven.

In Chicago as it is in heaven.

Yes. Yes I found it here.

But if it’s here in Chicago, then it’s in Greenville South Carolina. And it’s in Fort Wayne Indiana. And it’s in Madrid Spain. And it’s in Venice Italy.

So, I had some things to deal with personally.

You see, here’s what I realized that night:

There is no ideal local church.

There is only a Church.

It’s diverse. And it’s unified. And it’s full of good works.

And maybe when I commit to be a part of a really imperfect, un-ideal local church, that I’m committing to the worldwide Church of Jesus and participating in the Big Team’s wholeness.

I used to think that committing to one was saying no to others.

Now I know that saying yes to one is saying yes to all.

To make the macro-Church more unified and diverse, I must participate and struggle forward in the micro-church, no matter how un-unified and un-diverse it is.

And that’s winning.

Because if I don’t show up in this church relationship, then I’m creating a fraction and there’s a diverse spot missing. Just because I didn’t show up.

And when I say “show up,” I mean “give my heart into and commit.”

I don’t think I’m the first person in the world to ever seriously struggle through this. For those of you wanderers out there, I get it. You’ve seen some very real concerns and have probably faced some serious hurt from inside the church.

Yeah, me too.

So hear me out: I don’t think there’s an ideal church out there. Wherever you land, you’ll probably get hurt by someone, you won’t agree with the pastor at some point, you will be dumbfounded by some decisions, you’ll meet some hypocrites, you’ll get disheartened by your own hypocrisies, you’ll be lonely at some point, and you will begin to wonder if, geez, is this even worth it?

Yeah, sounds like work. Committing to anything is ridiculous hard work.

Let me just say that I’m learning it’s not about which building you commit to going to on Sunday morning and having the absolute ideal setting and people around you.

It’s how you interact with them every day. It’s how you serve. It’s how you lay down your life so that another may advance. It’s how you decide to show up. And keep showing up, rain or shine.

If we all did that, even in different, un-ideal settings, wouldn’t we be creating an ideal, unified, diverse Church individually together?

Here’s the thing: one day, our imperfect, struggling churches who flounder in unity and diversity and good works will come together at a really cool celebration in heaven that will look like a super-charged version of Pray Chicago.

And that’s when we will realize that what we always wanted we already had all along.

Broken, But Not Destroyed

I’ve been here one year, one whole year since moving to Chicago and totally starting over.

I came with a lot of hope, but inwardly carrying so much pain. So much pain from a betraying relationship in my personal life, and a verbally abusive power in my work life.

But even in my walk of hope into the future, in hopes away from the past, I had no idea the amount of resistance I was about to face.

You see, previously at one point in all my hope as I left to start a new season in my life, I thought I could do anything, accomplish whatever I set my heart on.

But instead of encouragement, I faced the betraying, abusive voices: “Who do you think you are?? What do you think you’re trying to do? You are nothing. You are completely unvaluable.”

The people of power and influence in my life had bullied my spirit almost into the ground.

I feel like I’ve lived with the humiliation of my hopes being dashed, and ashamed I was ashamed.

And yet– how can I say this– I knew.

I knew that I was supposed to step into a role of helping businesses be successful. I knew it was also time to partner with non-profits to build sustainable business models for them to help provide work opportunities for trafficked and abused women, to teach these beautiful women that they are more than their bodies, that they are full of potential and skills and opportunities within business.

This kind of work, this kind of “helping businesses” is otherwise known as consulting. And I thought this was it, this was my calling.

But the oppressive cloud hung over my head all year, and I couldn’t get the ridiculing, scoffing voices out.

“Who do you think you are? A consultant??”

At times this past year I have felt that all was lost.

I have had total meltdowns more than I care to recall.

I have felt like I’ve been on the verge of complete disaster continually.

I have faced very real injustice, betrayal, and brutal insensitivity.

I wanted to walk away. But I didn’t quit. I couldn’t quit— how can I explain it? I knew that I knew I was supposed to pursue this calling.

For so long I knew that God’s love was for me, and I was down with that. But I really didn’t think his justice applied to me.

Oh, but little did I realize that justice is love in action.

It’s really powerful love giving really powerful purpose. It’s hope wrapped in a gift.

It’s real. It’s received.

So.

Here it is. A kind way God has worked justice for me.

Today I started a job as a small business consultant for a reputable consulting firm in Chicago.

Who… me??

How was I to know that they would need a consultant that specializes in marketing and non-profits, which are both my favorites and my passions.

And folks, that’s when I knew that the only voice that matters is the one that created me.

Others can point and scoff and even in pious judgment say to God, “Who does she think she is??”

And he simply smiles and answers, “The best. The most awesome. The biggest world changer. You see, she’s with me.”

It brings to me to tears, that it all had a purpose, that following a very small seed of struggling faith was much bigger than any other opposition.

Sometimes it takes being broken to realize that you can’t be destroyed.

Broken

Thank God I’m Not Like Josh Duggar

Dear God, thank you that I am not like Josh Duggar.

You and I both know that their strict, conservatism was a huge front to the realities of his and his family’s life.

He is now exposed for what he really is: a sinner.

A sinner living like he’s something righteous.

Well, God thank you that I am not like this hypocritical, self-righteous sinner. Not only would I never commit an act like that, but I would never be so religious and fake. I am the most un-fake person I know and can make pure judgments of others’ sincerity.

I hope that by me standing up for what’s right and shaming him and this fake Christian culture that you would be proud of me, that I am encouraging all people everywhere to be real and transparent. Since the Gospel cuts through truth and lies, I am so thankful that I can minister the Gospel by heaping shame on him and his family, because shame is what leads anyone to change.

It’s what he deserves. I hate people like that, judgmental people that act like they’re better than everyone else. At least I don’t act like I’m perfect. And because I don’t pretend like I’m perfect, then I have a right to announce all the hypocrisy of those who do pretend, even if I don’t know them. I can tell; I know these situations. I’m a really good judge of intent and character.

So God, I thank you I am not like this sinner, Josh Duggar. Thank you for all of your grace to me. It makes my life so much better. I’m glad I can receive it, unlike other sinners. In your name, Amen.

*******

It’s such an easy trap to fall into, the trap of merciless shame-dumping: The Judgement Zone.

I know this Judgment Zone because it’s my gut reaction to situations like this one, when really bad things happen to the vulnerable ones by people who claim to be “good.” I hear these very words in my head and start boiling with anger.

But here’s what I’ve realized about this Judgment Zone: when we live in the Judgment Zone and rally around sin to expose it, no matter how big or how little, here’s what we’re really preaching:

“No one is ever allowed to mess up. If you want to be included or wanted, you have to be perfect. Or at least my definition of perfect.”

And we put more and more distance between ourselves and our relationships and our community.

We hold up the banner of Josh Duggar’s mess and shout, “He must be punished! And he must be extra shamed because he was faking! And it’s our duty to exploit it, to make sure that everything is clear and ends up being perfectly fair.”

Because he is the only one that’s ever messed up or pretended that he was something he wasn’t.

Because he is too far gone to be shown mercy and grace.

Because he’s tearing down the name of goodness and God in our culture.

Actually what’s tearing down the fame of God in our culture is a total lack of love. We should be known for what we are for, not for what we are against. We should be known for our encouraging lives, not for our exploiting voices.

I am just as appalled at evil and injustice as you are. I’ve seen it up front and personal. When my friend was beaten and abused by her boyfriend for months and she escaped to my house. When my friend was raped and the courts wouldn’t believe her and the perpetrator goes free. When I lost all my work when my previous company took unjust legal action against me.

JusticeIt’s not cool. It shouldn’t go undone.

I absolutely want justice.

But justice without love, without hope, and without purpose is no justice at all. 

We all applaud turn-around stories of people who were living destructive lives and then have a major “come-to-Jesus” encounter where they do a 180 and totally change for good.

We feel good when we hear stories like that.

But who will stand in the gap for them? 

Who will be the first to say, “I forgive you. I want the best for your life. I offer you a safe place to be imperfect and go through your change”?

Jesus is such a good example of this. He’s the one who sought out the dirtiest, most rotten ones of society and said, “Follow me. Let me serve you. I make all things new.”

So now we can also can look at the ones with the most exposed, dirtiest deeds and say, “Come be with me. Let me serve you. We’re going to go with Christ and he makes all things new.”

This is for the broken ones. Rich or poor. Popular or outcast. Perpetrator or exploited.

When we live less than this, when we become judgmental of the judgmental, we raise walls of separation.

And those observing from the sidelines who need help are cowered into silence because if anyone knew what was really going on in their lives, they know they would be shamed and bullied into the dust just like this guy was.

So they live in quiet conflict, their secret lives sealed shut beneath the surface.

But we can only go so long before the reality of our issues come out. And I believe that a culture of authenticity and grace-covering imperfection can help all of us heal of stewing internal struggles.

I want 14 year old boys who struggle with pornography, sex addiction and an unhealthy view of women to know that there is a place and a people where they can go and open up about their imperfections and find loving help.

I want 40 year old crack-addicted prostitutes to know that there are people who love them and see them as the valuable, cherished women that they are and are willing to walk with them into healing.

I want the cheating husband with 3 kids to know that he doesn’t have to live a fake life anymore, that there is a place where he can come in his brokenness to find forgiveness and restoration.

This is called radical grace. 

Because sometimes some things seem completely unforgivable. It would just be too radical.

But to the broken ones, to the ones that see their helpless state, this radical grace is freely offered.

And we are the agents and communicators of that grace in our relationships and communities.

And if that abuser, that pimp, that cheater isn’t broken yet? Well, it’s not our place to shame and break them.

We make boundaries in our lives, we pursue proper justice through our legal system, but we don’t light shame fires.

Shame never induces change.

But mercy does.

How do I know this?

Because I am the one who has received this kind of radical grace and unbelievable mercy.

And if I can’t give back what I have received, did I ever truly receive it in the first place?

Love the one in front of you

How do you change the world?

Heidi Baker said it well:

Love the one in front of you.

Change does not happen through programs and speeches and books and status’s and tweets and music and community groups and fundraisers and blog posts.

One day we have to realize that the only person responsible for making change happen in our community and city and country and world is ourselves.

I cannot control my circumstances or the people who appear in my day. But I do have everything to say about my choices in response to each and every person in front of me every day.

I used to search out change, dream about changing the world, create plans of action to really impact the world.

And then about a year ago a subtle change happened and I really didn’t realize it until others called it out. I think it’s because I was just living who I was in my natural environment but my perspective on people had shifted somehow.

Just over a year ago my vision for Greenville unexpectedly became This is my city“, and when you own something you naturally act differently towards it.

Suddenly the homeless person walking by my company to buy alcohol and drugs across the street to feed his addiction was my problem. When Michael’s trailer became condemned and he had nowhere to live that was my problem. When a friend came to my house after being abused for months that was my problem. When a couple driving through Greenville needed their laundry done that was my problem. When a new friend quit a strip club job because of her choice to follow Jesus and had no place to live that was my problem.

It was pretty difficult. And often awkward. I mean, seriously. Whenever someone admits need and you give them something, it’s pretty awkward. It would’ve been so much easier to complain. “I can’t believe there was an open drug deal outside our office. We work in such a bad neighborhood.” “Why doesn’t Salvation Army take care of Michael? That’s what they’re there for.” “Man, people always have an agenda when they ask for something. They’re such manipulators.” “Wow, some men are just abusive pigs and some poor girls just fall for it. Let’s pray about it.”

I would say the past year I’ve been stretched financially more than I ever could have imagined. My heart was split open over life stories. I had several emotional breakdowns. I had to deal with using my last dollar to provide for someone and then watch them use money they were given to buy dress shoes and eat out. I had to learn to be rejected, and then to forgive, and then to keep giving when my ability and desire was completely wasted away. I had to deal with other people (Christians) upset about my generosity because it interfered with their lives. I often felt alone and unable to know how to make decisions.

So, yes, from that perspective it was hard. Loving was challenging. Giving was an obstacle.

And yet…

I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Look, you could offer to totally pay off my school debt (which is a lot) in return for the past year and I would laugh and say to you…

I told you the struggle, but now let me tell you the joy.

The joy of inviting that laundry couple over for dinner and hearing them tell me how they met Jesus radically a few days earlier, having the husband drill me about why I live the way I live, and then laughing at their ridiculous story of “rafting” down a river in Louisiana on an air mattress. The joy of driving Michael to church a year after we met him, watching him get baptized while I am wrecked into tears about his crazy story and our experiences. The joy of standing next to my friend during worship as she raises her hands in tears in praise to God for freeing her soul and I have to stop singing because I realize that only a month ago she had been in a strip club, broke, lonely, and had no hope to cling to. The joy of realizing that all the promises of Isaiah 58 are mine to claim and then watch them unfold in my life.

I didn’t search for these joys. I didn’t wake up one day and decide to find someone and impact their life. I think I realized who I was, which is a chosen child of God, which means the Spirit lives in me, so I naturally think and act like Jesus, so when a person in need is in front of me, I simply act like Jesus did.

Sometimes that was surprising. Sometimes it was celebrated. Sometimes it was impressive. Sometimes it seemed like I became a celebrity.

Can I just say that when we know who we are that acts of love and kindness and generosity and healing are completely normal? Why is it not normal that we have the homeless living with us? That we feed the hungry out of our paycheck? That we personally give our good clothing to those in need?

Isaiah 58 became my rallying cry and my source of promise when things got in deep and dark. And FYI, it’s for all of us. And it’s not figurative. It’s literal.

We are all world changers. The question is will we live up to our potential? And I believe that potential is very simple: Love the one in front of you.

One. just one.

And it’s funny. After you love one, suddenly it becomes two. And then three. And pretty soon people start thinking you’re this courageous, impressive person and you’re like, “Um, I’m just living. like a normal person. that knows Jesus. Hey, you can too! We’re really not that different.”

Stop the meetings. Stop the bullet points. Stop the noise. And let’s live our normal day with Kingdom eyes and watch some pretty freakn’ amazing things start happening.

Chill out

I’m in this season of life right now where I feel really fragmented. It’s rather ironic, though, looking back to where I was a year ago having just moved back to Greenville and starting to live on my own for the first time. Let’s see, what did I do: I worked full-time, did swing dancing, was involved with church stuff, and, if there was money to spare, I ate food. I didn’t have many options as a result of my limited resources. I was also in this post-college honeymoon phase of “whoa I can come home after work and do … nothing.” Which, um, was quite frankly what I typically did. No TV, no internet, living off Kashi granola, bananas and peanut butter. So this is what 20 years of school was preparing me for. Mom, Dad- I knew you’d be proud.

Now my life is overflowing and I honestly can’t say it’s in a unified fashion. Praying about that. But let’s not bore you. I do too much of that with this blog.

What am I really here to muse about? Well, when I’m feeling fragmented and busy, my mind starts to go a million miles an hour and I have to keep up, be one step ahead. And with those moments often come confusion and fear of the unknown. It quickly bogs me down.

I know you’ve been there, so I won’t elaborate. Ok, so in those moments (whether you’re overwhelmed, confused, insecure, fearful- you name it), what words of comfort from Scripture come to mind to calm the troubled mind?

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, learn from me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

I’ve read these words in Matthew 11 somewhat recently as I’ve been progressing through the book of Matthew. for the past year. ah yes, my reading comprehension abilities are staggering. Actually I try to work slowly and typically get stuck on phrases like 9:1, “And Jesus, getting into a boat…” and I can’t go any further. Why the boat? Why at that moment? Why is Jesus always getting in boats? Why was this connecting thought even put here in this chapter? Is he speaking to me to get in a boat and spread his kingdom? Royal Caribbean? Yes, Lord, your child hears.

So I was stuck on this “Come to me and find rest” command for a while. And you know what I found? I think I’ve viewed it all wrong the entire time. Or at least had only a partial view.

Step back. Jesus was on mission, spreading his fame, telling everyone that the Law and rules they’ve been working so hard under will now be fulfilled. He thanks God for opening eyes and hearts to know him. So come and find rest in Jesus! Your weariness is over.

And here’s the good stuff– what happens next. Chapter 12: “At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath.” At that time- what time was it?

Jesus had just declared himself as the chosen one, the answer they were waiting for, and then called on God to spiritually open their eyes and to give them rest in Jesus, to lay their burdens down on him. It was at that time that Jesus, always on mission, went through the grain fields to pick up food…on the Sabbath day.

This is Jesus. He could’ve overturned a stone and pulled out a fattened calf and had a feast with his friends. He could’ve done anything to provide food for his hungry friends with him. After all, they needed physical rest and restoration. But Jesus had a different rest to teach them about, so he took them to a field to get food, and in that culture it was a blatant breach of rules to pick up grain on the holy day. Kinda like streaking through a Baptist sanctuary. There are just some things nobody questions.

Then- this is where is gets edgy- he allows them freedom to take food from a field to eat even though there was a rule against it.

It was a cultural no-no. It was a denominational no-no. It may have even been a personal conviction no-no.

Tell me, why Jesus would do that?

He of all people should’ve been the one enforcing the rules.

So why? Cause he’s the Master of the Sabbath. He owns it.

It is not an irony that this happens right on the heels of him calling his children to “come unto me and find rest.” He’s showing them that he is more concerned about the heart of the law than about the letter of the law. “Friends, are you hungry? You can eat and be ok with God still being satisfied with you, because I’m here, and I’ve satisfied God enough for all of us.”

Do you see this? This is what Jesus was telling me: “Chill out! You can rest now. I’m here and actually the purpose of Sabbath rules were all about me in the first place. Now you are free from this rule because now in resting from this pressure it’s still all about me. You get to eat in this unconventional, radical manner and that’s good. I want to feed you because I’m good.”

So, friends, pick up the grain and eat. Those things that used to hold you away from God, enjoy. Find joy in enjoying and be at rest. Nothing has dominion over you now except the law of love.

So in those moments when you’re striving in your mind about doing or not doing something because you’re afraid you’ll lose the favor of God…chill out. Seriously. Test it against the law of love, and then live in freedom. You’re free either way.

So this “come unto me and find rest’ isn’t just about calming the soul in hard seasons of life or in the busyness of circumstances around you (though I do believe it includes that). There is a much much bigger picture though from what I gather looking at the whole context.

And the story gets better! The Pharisee’s reaction are just so typical in response to Jesus’ radical command to rest. But, I have to stop and hold you in suspense until followup thoughts later about the Pharisees because I don’t know how anyone can have grace enough to read through this entire post. Reel it in, or, as a mom-quote comes to mind, I just need to take a chill pill.

I got a love letter!

Have you ever received a love letter?

Like, a real one. a genuine, hand-written, college-ruled, snail mailed, cologne scented love letter?

Let me tell you– It’s quite an experience.

I open the mailbox. the initial rush of personally picking it up with my own hands and realizing what it is and who it’s from. Smiling stupidly is my specialty, so thus the side glance to see if anyone else notices my odd reaction. and the fact that it’s gotten really warm in here all of a sudden. awkward yawn. ok relaxed and safe to move on.

First things first, I don’t open it right away. No, something like this waits for solace and full attention. I could rip it open and feverishly read it immediately, but… that’s just not me. so I wait. but obviously not too long. really people.

I love to read outside so I search out a destination. Random rock, patch of grass, rusted bench- whatever. Just get there.

Letter in hand, heading to my “spot,” can’t get it off my mind. What’s he going to say? Of course, you know, I’ve already anticipated in my mind of what he’s going to tell me. I know him pretty well so I already have a good idea what kind of stuff he will say. But, what if he says something new? What about that “next level” thing I keep hearing about? Every time I think I’ve figured him out, there he goes surprising me yet again with another crazy awesome attribute. And is it possible he’s been thinking about me as much as I’ve been thinking about him? highly unlikely. but we’ll see.

At my spot. Looking at the envelope- yep, addressed to me. to ME! I still can’t believe he actually loves me. Even saying the word “love” just causes awe and wonder. goosebumps. undeserving.

Attempt to open slowly. Proceed to shred the envelope (because that’s the only way to open an envelope– why so difficult?!).

Dear Angela. Actually he addresses me differently, but that’s a little too personal to share here.

And then I read.

The first time through I read rather quickly, catching the highlights, just overjoyed that I actually get to hear from him! Whenever I read a letter from him, it really is almost like he’s here. with me.

And then the second read-through. A little slower, a little more methodical. And a third time. and a fourth time. It’s like each time I see something different. And because I’m weirdly analytical, I begin imagining about what he really meant with that sentence. What’s he actually saying when he writes that phrase? A special meaning just for me?? From what I hear though, typically guys mean what they say (ie, “I’m fine” actually really does mean “I’m fine.” Mind blown!). But still, I think he might be trying to lead somewhere deeper with this…hm, need to chew on this more.

Of course I have to reread my favorite parts. The ones that to me are the most endearing, truthful, beautiful words. Sure, I’d prefer for him to be here RIGHT NOW, but the next best thing are his words.

So then I sit back. stare aimlessly into space. and think about the letter. and him. I can’t stop smiling. I can’t stop longing. hoping. And anyone that walks by has no doubts: she’s in love.

What happens next? Well of course the letter is in an easily accessible and often-viewed place. Dashboard, bathroom mirror, desk drawer. And almost without thought the words of this love letter tend to spill over into conversations. You know what I mean. You’re at lunch with friends, in the middle of the the organic foods discussion, and “that person” keeps talking about the random non-topic related foods he likes to eat. “He totally loves tomato soup and grilled cheese and that’s what I’m making tonight– good recipes anyone?” Yeah, the day of the letter, I’m “that person.”

If you talk with me at any point during the day I read that letter, it’s inevitable– somehow a part of him will rub off on you. He’s just that awesome. and I can’t hide it because someone this amazing has stolen my heart, and honestly the only downfall is that he isn’t here next to me right now for me to introduce you to him. But the words of the love letter will do just fine for now. But trust me, meeting him is TEN TIMES more awesome!

~sigh~

So that’s my love letter story.

Ridiculous, huh? C’mon, I know you’ve been there. little smile?

And I’m smiling because, well, this really well-developed, thought-provoking, borderline embarrassing story may very well have been from my own imagination. yep, I’ve never actually gotten a hand-written love letter from someone. Was that a major letdown? do you still respect me? (Oh, and I’m not married yet though, so there’s still time bro!)

But, actually, this is a world rocking moment for me.

have experienced this.

I have a love letter.

like, for real. and it’s from God.

Use your imagination. I think you can connect the dots.

What he’s been teaching me the past several years? The reality of what this “love letter” connection means and the depths of it. This is an illustration I’ve often used with my teen girls at camp, in random talks with friends about God’s words, and it came up in 2 separate conversations one day this week. I’ve been mulling over it. Been rebuked by it.

Do something- go back and reread this post and imagine Jesus as the “he” I refer to and make the setting one of personal time with Jesus. Why would the God that created us give us different love experiences, expectations and emotions on earth with another human than what he intended us to have with himself? Radical, I know, but really. think about it. God came up with Song of Solomon stuff. And it’s pretty radical and free and without fear. (and if you haven’t read the Song of Solomon story, you really should. It’s off the chain.)

Honestly, I don’t get it. This is so far from my reality I don’t even know why I’m writing this. I don’t understand this “love letter” connection stuff much right now, maybe somewhat attributing to being single, which is probably why marriage is attractive to me. But one way or another, on heaven or earth, I’m gonna experience that kind of love. There’s a wedding waiting for me.

So I’m thinking, if you’re not of the mind of a bride getting ready to walk down and meet her groom, maybe you don’t really know Jesus. Because he’s just that awesome. and he’s stolen my heart. and once I read his words to me, I can’t help but smile. and tell everyone about him. And I hope that some day people will walk by when I’m reading His words and say, “No doubt about it– she’s in love.”

25 years.

25.

It’s a pretty good number. It’s the cost of obtaining a treasure from the gum ball machine. It’s the year your car insurance goes down (supposedly). 1925 was the year Scotch tape was invented!

It’s also a great time for everyone to remind you that you have crossed the quarter-century threshold.

thanks friends.

It’s been a great time to think. remember. I clearly remember the day I turned 24. If my calculations are correct, that would be 1 year ago.

1 year ago. I had just graduated from grad school.

The next day I was leaving for a 2 month missions trip to Spain, England and Italy. My life was very simple. and condensed. like Campbell’s chicken noodle soup. And I had about 5 banana boxes and 3 suitcases to my name packed away in Greenville.

All I knew at that moment was that I was going to Europe to live with broken people and serve where needed.  After that there were no plans, no job, no income, no “direct revelation” about next steps.

I would not in a million years dreamed up what has happened in 1 year. 1 single, solitary year. Can I even begin to describe…? A couple thoughts come to mind about this past year.

Unstable.

The 5 months after graduation were a little out-of-hand, borderline ridiculous: 14 homes, 9 churches, 4 countries, 6 cultures, 15 couches/beds/mattresses, 7 ministry offers, thousands of dollars. And when it was all said and done I was still broke, jobless, homeless, and directionless, without a clue of where in the world I was supposed to be.

Even when I got a job (check that: when God gave me a job) and came back to Greenville, I had a huge struggle with financial instability. I had to wait 3 weeks before getting paid, on top of being unemployed for 5 months. Back to my mathematical insight, when you add $0 + $0, you get a very stressful life transition.

It took a long time to recover from that, longer than I wanted to wait. Through tears and faith-straining, God taught me patience and trust. I was horrible at it, but He was teaching me none-the-less.

He taught me to practically boot strap.

He taught me to not feel guilty about saying “no” to certain activities or opportunities.

He taught me to pray, and to love Him more than money by thinking about Him more than money.

He showed me I’m actually a very fearful, controlling person that is in need of a Savior every single day.

Bi-polar

This descriptive overlaps with the previous one, yet focuses more on my emotions. My emotions were up and down, and tended to stay down for long periods. Then I’d go through deep, soul-stirring moments of Jesus-love and be soaring, and then I’d be discouraged about a difficult situation or sin. I knew that I wanted Jesus more than anything, but this war kept raging in my heart more than I’ve ever noticed before in my life.

Identity Crisis

Actually, it was more of an identity loss. crushed. God piled up everything that I loved and was finding my identity in and called it “Idolatry” and that was really hard for me to take, so I fell flat on my face. He told me to burn my idols and turn from them before they turned on me.

But, everything? Even my mind? My thoughts, my dreams, my passions?

God: “Yes, they have become idols. Your heart is an idol factory. You sacrifice them and I’ll give them back when and where I decide, if I ever do. You say you’re ‘Complete in Thee’, but you’re not. So let go and cling to Christ. Do you love me more than these?”

That was a very dark time for me because I had for the first time truly come face-to-face with my wicked heart of idolatry. And it was not fun. And then I wasn’t sure whether I had ever truly loved Him, or wanted Him for the gifts He gives. Yes, Jesus became more precious to me that anything during that time, but it took months to “recover” and fully understand the hope, promise and victory of the Gospel. It’s still a struggle.

By the way, yesterday (after I wrote the first draft of this post) a friend sent me this sermon from T4G to listen to about God’s plan in disappointments and dashed hopes. HIGHLY recommend it. Disappointments are purposeful!

Faith

Always remember that it’s not about the quality or quantity of faith, but WHO IT’S IN! My faith was often with fear and trepidation and cold sweats, but thank God it never was or is about me! How relieving!

This past year I was more often that not in situations where I had no other alternatives but to pray for God’s protection, guidance, and provision.

Obstacles included traveling alone, finding correct buses and trains in foreign places, language, money for travel, money for bills, money for moving, money for gas, a job, place to live, a table to eat at, a bed to sleep on, a friend to encourage me…the list is endless.

Yet here I am. Still sane. ish. And full of praise to Him because HE DID IT! Don’t forget that. Don’t praise me. Just stop. I mean go. Go praise Him.

Single

Yes, I just said the bad 6-letter S-word. Let’s face it– it often awkward and/or inferior, and not only in our culture, but also in the church. I mean, have you ever seen a movie where this awesome person is going about life, trying to find this missing piece that will make their world complete, looking for that true love and affirmation…and then they find it! They get to be single for the rest of their life!!

Highly unlikely.

Yet– watch this– isn’t it awesome that no one has to “wait” for fulfillment and completeness and purpose?? Please read the Gospel! Jesus fills that empty hole and missing piece in our hearts! every. single. time.

So…. anyway, on this earth, I am experiencing challenges that naturally come as a result of living alone and being single, not married or dating. The main one has been the need and desire to talk about something discouraging or exciting or even mundane, and there’s simply no one around to share that with in the moment. In particular I have had many discouraging times coming home from work, and I often just wished I had someone to talk to. I found myself keeping things to myself and mulling over it in my mind.

But I soon found that to be unhealthy and, actually, ungodly. That’s why the Body of Christ is so important. I now make it a practice to immediately text or call a very close friend if something happens that I need to release and be open about.

It’s also been challenging not having another person closely peering into my life and challenging me. Not many people challenge me, question my intentions, point out inconsistencies, reveal my laziness. I’m always unsure if I have gone as far as I could’ve, because I’m the only standard to my standards.

Again, I’m finding that I shouldn’t just “accept” these things, but need to do the extra leg-work to seek out others in the Body to meet those needs of mine. And it’s ok to admit need, weakness, insecurity. Christ DIED for His Church, so it’s pretty important that I work hard to involve them in my life. And practically, if I practice keeping to myself while I’m single, then that is how I’ll eventually live out marriage.

So that just about sums it up. I’d like to think that this time next year will be full of stability and normality…but, eh, that is pretty unlikely.  Actually this past week right before my birthday God has been specifically guiding my prayers about a next step and/or phase in my life. Scary, exciting, fearful, invigorating, challenging…

I can’t wait to see what next year’s post “26” will be. Praising Him for 25.

The day of my birthday. 25 years ago.