Month: August 2013 (page 2 of 4)

How Beautiful the Blood Flowed

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It is generally known that a lot of what I do and say happens without me thinking it through all the way. This fact has left me bleeding and scarred, literally, on two separate occasions this week.  On Monday of this week, I was playing volleyball and through a series of terrible rallies and bad passes, the bright yellow ball ended up stuck high in a tree.  “Okay,” I thought, “I’m the only one who is 5’10” here and even though I still can’t reach it, I might be able to shake the ball out of the tree.” With this brilliant idea planted in my brain, I quickly reached up and wrapped the lowest branch tightly in my fist.  Just as quickly, my hand sent neurons to my brain yelling, “Ow! Ow!”  I had forgotten a very significant detail: most all of Botswana trees are covered with thorns the size of tooth picks.  I jerked my hand away, leaving three small cuts in my hand and one miniscule tip of a thorn.  Though the wounds were small, they were incredibly painful especially when put in water.

Just as my wounds were beginning to heal nicely and it no longer hurt to stretch my hand, another thoughtless injury occurred.  Today, after packing my suitcase to move to my host home I remembered that I had forgotten both my shampoo and razor in the shower.  After retrieving the items, I unzipped the suitcase only halfway and began to stuff in the large bottle.  This didn’t work very well…

Now, I’m not sure what prompted me to put my razor in first, but I did.  Face up.  This may go down in history as my worst idea ever.

Without thinking, I shoved my shampoo bottle in the suitcase, taking off part of my right pinky finger in the process.

After cleaning and bandaging my wound I immediately began to think of the pain I would have when showering and washing my hands as the cut stung immensely when wet.

Fast forward to about three o’clock this afternoon when we (Chelsea, Drew, and I) attended G-West’ s youth service.  The pastor put in a Louie Giglio sermon and at some point during the video there was a picture put on the screen that touched my heart.  It was a picture of Jesus, His face bloody, tired, and pained.  In that moment, I imagined the salty sweat that was surely flowing steadily into his fresh and open wounds.  I imagined the burning sensation I felt on my finger and in the cuts on my hand and multiplied it by a thousand.  This was what he endured for me.  My sin, my shame was the reason His skin was ripped open and His blood was poured out.  My sin—and yours.

It could’ve been me there on that cross.  In fact, it should’ve been me.  It should have been my pain.  It should have been my sweat.  It should have been my blood running down that splintered wood and pooling in the dust.  It should’ve been me.

But instead, He willingly took my place.

What an amazing display of love this is: that He—the Creator of the world, the Lord over all the nations—took my place.

And how shameful it is that sometimes I forget or even undermine the suffering He endured.

Oh Lord of Heaven, You are beautiful.  I can never say thank you enough for taking my place there on that cross.  Remind my soul constantly of the sacrifice you made on my behalf.  I love You more than mere words could describe. May I never forget how beautiful, how merciful, how perfectly wonderful You are. 

From the Dust of Botswana, Arises Beauty

What an inadequate word beauty seems to me right now.  ‘Magnificent’ and ‘exquisite’ do not even begin to describe what I have seen already in this wonderful land called Botswana.

I have struggled with how to fully describe this place to those who have never been and I feel I am falling miserably short of this task.  Picture in your mind’s eye something that you think is beautiful.  Not painted or airbrushed, but real, unadulterated beauty.  What does it look like for you?

For me, beauty is here.

Beauty is in the simple way of life lived out by the Africans.  During the day, the people of Gaberone laugh and sing (both, very loudly) and come and go as they please.  Time is not simply a clock that must be meticulously watched and guarded.  For them, time is for investing and enjoying each other.  Time is money here, but instead of trying to hoard it like misers, they spend it like kings who have more than enought to spare.

At night, the chorus of crickets come out to sing their nocturnal lullaby.  Guard dogs bark in the distance adding to the medley of African bedtime noises.  Occasionally, you can hear the pulsing beat of African music coming from a house party where the people’s laughing and singing has continued into the nighttime.

Beauty is in how they worship.  They sing as loudly as possible and dance with every fiber of their being, bowing low before the God of heaven and earth.  They are not distracted by a fancy building or the promise of lunch when the pastor quits talking.  They are not even distracted by the pastor.  All they see and hear is Jesus.

Beauty is in the prayers of the people.  With their eyes closed and voices raised they enter into the throne room of an Almighty God.  I can feel Him smiling as His children from all over the world gather together to talk to Him, to praise Him, to thank Him.

Beauty is in the smiles of the children, who are living in not only a physical desert but an emotional desert as well.  Beauty comes from the fact that though most of the time they have no reason to smile, they smile anyway.  Beauty is the fact that I almost couldn’t leave the school today because of the forty tiny arms wrapped around my waist.

Beauty is Jesus.  He is the only reason I stepped on that plane on Thursday.  He is the only reason I made it here alive on Saturday morning.  He is the only reason I am able to love these people after only knowing them for four days.  He is the only reason I am able to love at all.

With all of this beauty and love and clear evidence of God’s all-sustaining grace, this place has taken a piece of my heart that I know I will surely never get back.

I wish I could fully describe this place to you.  All I know to say is that God’s presence is here in Gaberone, Botswana and that alone makes it more beautiful than words could ever hope to describe.

Holy Meltdown

Maybe it was the mere three hours of sleep I got on Sunday night, or maybe I really was having a bad day.  Maybe it was a combination of both.  All I know is that by Monday afternoon I was standing in the doorway of my father’s office holding a jar of peanut butter and a spoon, puffy-eyed and needing some sort of comfort and reason.

That Monday had provided a cap to a list I felt was growing at an insurmountable rate: the “no” list.  On top of that, I started to panic about my life, specifically my major.  What am I going to do with it? Did I pick the right one?  At noon, I had texted my parents and my closest friend looking for some words of encouragement.  All three responses had the same theme: “I’m sorry! But this just means God has something better in mind,” “Trust Him! He know’s the plans He has for you.” or “Don’t worry! God’s got something else for you.”  An hour later, I went to a meeting only to announce that a project I had been planning and developing for months would also be on the “no” list.  The girl sitting beside me gave me a warm-hearted smile and said, “Oh that’s okay! God must have a different plan for it and I’m sure it will be great!”

My cynism nearly burst out of my chest and attacked that phrase!  After hearing it so much, it felt like it didn’t really mean anything at all.  Like it was just a thing that was supposed to be said to someone who was disappointed or heart-broken.

As soon as I got in my car I burst into tears; every emotion exploded out of me.  In my anger and confusion (and lack of sleep) I began to have a pity party.

“God, what is it? What is it you want from me? I’m not good at anything and I don’t know how You’re ever going to use me!  I keep adding stuff to my “no” list–can I get a “yes” now and then?  I’m trying to do all this stuff, all this good stuff…”

Then He spoke.  And this, in and of itself is amazing to me.  There I was, giving Him the silent treatment and then lashing out in an irrational panic.

In a voice only audible to my heart, I heard this:

Baby girl, why are you doing this?  This whole year, you’ve been throwing pieces of your “resume” up to me.  Are you looking for points or a pat on the back?  You’re right, it is good stuff, but sweet girl, it’s not My stuff for you.  Are you looking for a different answer?  Because I told you a long time ago what I wanted from you. Your heart. Your devotion.  And I told you a long time ago what I wanted you to do with the talent I gave you.  I haven’t changed my mind.  I’m not going to.  Don’t bury your talent; go out and invest it, multiply it, and tell others Who supplied it.  And let me answer another question:  It’s okay that you’re not perfect.  I know that already.  That’s why I came and rescued you on that cross 2,000 years ago.  I told you in My word that I chose the weak, the foolish, the lowly, the despised to fully display My glory.  It’s not something that is just said to the disappointed and heart-broken; it’s the truth.  I do know the plans I have for you.  But baby girl, it’s not quite time for you to know the plans.  I love you. Trust me.

In my foolishness, in my attempt at collecting a resume full of stuff, I had ignored the things that were going right for me.  I had missed my “yes” list.  And it wasn’t that I didn’t know that He had a plan for my life, it’s just that I was trying so hard to fit my plan into a mold that only fit His.

So after the peanut butter and the nap and the encouraging words from my dad, here’s what I learned: Though the whole world seems to be keeping tabs on successes and failures, God isn’t looking for a resume.  Because here’s the thing–none of us have one good enough to give Him. I am empty-handed when I come before the throne of His grace.  I have nothing, but He has everything I need.  All He wants is a bended knee and an obedient heart.

Maybe your like me, hoping He mispoke about what He wants from you, hoping He’ll change His mind.  He won’t.  Ask me or go to Scripture and ask Jonah, and we’ll tell you He won’t change His mind because He didn’t make a mistake the first time.  And maybe you’re like me and it’s hard to imagine that He has a plan because you can’t see it.  Let me let you in on a secret that will relieve your over-burdened heart:  His plans aren’t riding on your opinion or knowledge of them.  We serve a God far bigger than that.

So go home, eat some peanut butter, take a nap, do whatever you need to do.  Because it’s okay to be sad and broken-hearted and disappointed sometimes, just don’t let it consume you.  Remember the He does know the plans He has for you: plans to prosper you, not to harm you.  It’s not just something to say.  It’s truth.

1 Corinthians 1:27-28

Jeremiah 9:11

Matthew 25:14-30

The Book of Jonah

A Beautiful Life

The first true, unadulterated sign of spring showed itself yesterday!  My heart was filled to the brim as I walked around campus breathing in the fresh air.  I purposefully parked downtown just so I would have a long walk to class.  I spent an hour and a half reading in one of the local parks.  Needless to say, it was a perfect day!

As I was on those treks to and from class, I started making a list in my head of all the reasons why I love where I live:

  1. Because of the twisted trees and barefoot babies.
  2. Because of the cracked sidewalks.
  3. Because of the glossy blades of grass that dance carelessly in the breeze.
  4. Because spring comes early and winter comes with a light touch.
  5. Because I can get a sunburn in February.
  6. Because the food is made for the soul.
  7. Because of the generous hands and honey-sweet smiles.
  8. Because of the wide open spaces and places to run but nowhere to hide.
  9. Because small town heroes who make it big, still return to be small town heroes.
  10. Because of the coffee shops and local music.
  11. Because of the parks that ring with sounds of laughter.
  12. Because you really can go down to the river to pray.
  13. Because the way the sun shines on the top of the water reminds you that the world really isn’t all that bad a place.
  14. Because there is character.
  15. Because of the local food and festivities.
  16. Because of the sweet little cafe that has been around for a hundred years.
  17. Because my college sits at the heart of the city.
  18. Because the football game is the social event of the week.
  19. Because there are churches on every corner.
  20. Because there is community.
  21. Because there is family.
  22. Because it is the perfect combination of new and old.
  23. Because there is life here.

Even in its worst parts, it is perfect in every way.  I thank God all the time for blessing me with such a warm (both in spirit and temperature), beautiful place to call home.

Kindness

Home

Now, some of you may be concerned that because I have not been writing about my journey through 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7, I have given up.  Not so!  I have been faithfully going through each aspect of those verses and I have even taken notes on what I’ve learned, fully intending to broadcast them here.  Unfortunately, my laziness and procrastination stood in the way of that.

I guess I should start from where I left off.  My last day of patience came with a fresh breath of air exhaled out of tired, but now patient lungs.  With that came an inhilation of my new challenge:  kindness.  Weary from my three week wrestling match with the virtue of patience, I gleamed at the prospect of showing kindness to the world.  This idea seemed far easier.

Just like with patience, kindness was a simple task for the first few days.  I took cupcakes to my Astronomy and French classes within the first three days of kindness.  I was showered with “thank you’s” and a multitude of smiles beaming from appreciative, icing covered faces.  My professors kept saying things like, “That was so kind of you to think of us,” and “This was such a nice thing to do.” With my heart and head swollen with all the praises of my teachers and classmates, I boldly strutted into the next day.

With my new popularity still hitching a ride on my ever increasing pride level, I marched straight into another public place.  Again, I was greeted by friends and family shooting positive comments my way:  “You look so pretty tonight,” “You look like you are having SO much fun in college,” or “It’s so good to see you!”  These affirmative phrases encouraged me to continue with my seemingly easy task of kindness.  I smiled back and repeated simple phrases like, “You look great as well!” or “I am having fun! Thanks for asking! It’s wonderful to see you too!”

In retrospect, the sugary phrases that rolled off my tongue have an entirely different and bitter taste after remembering what happened next.  I turned to the entrance of where I stood, simply scanning the crowd, just in time to see a group of people stride through the door.  Instantly, my warm fuzzy thoughts of kindness melted under the heat of the angry thoughts infiltrating my heart.  I sat in my incredibly uncomfortable seat, steaming and purposely ignoring them.  I justified my lack of communication with the fact that they, too, were ignoring me.  Finally with my self-satisfied nose pointed to the sky, I marched out in an uproar.  Who did they think they were, ignoring me as if I’d never existed–never been a part of their lives? We stood three feet apart and they didn’t even have the decency to look me in the eyes.

After my fury and irritation had susbsided, I heard a voice somewhere deep inside my being asking me those same questions.  Who did I think I was to retaliate with anything but love?  Where was my decency?  How did I blatently ignore those I claimed to love for so long?  Even more, how did I blatently ignore the voice of the One I love most–the One who showed the ultimate kindness by dying on a cross for my salvation–telling me to be kind?  As ashamed as I am by my ugly actions, pious nose-pointing, and the sheer fact that it took me so long to have this revelation, I learned a valuable concept about kindness that night; it is no easier a task than patience.

It is easy to be kind to those who give a positive response.  It is easy to be kind to those who say thank you and gush about how nice and wonderful you are.  It is easy to be kind to those who are kind.  But let me tell you what is not easy: beingkind to the unkind.  It is hard to be kind to those who refuse or misuse our attempts at kindness.  To those who mock or ingore, it is difficult to show kindness.  But through all of this, I became convinced that God did not call us to easy.  Rather He calls us to difference, to being set apart.

So no, in contrast to my preconceived notions, it is not easy to be patient or kind or any other aspect of the true love talked about in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  It is not easy, but I have found that it is worth it.

Matthew 5: 43-48  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.  For he makes his sun rise of the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Coming Back

Wow! I have not written in ages! So much of my time has been consumed with various projects and responsibilities, I rarely get a free moment to breathe.  When that free time does find its way back into my life the last thing I want to spend it on is something productive such as blogging. I have found, though, that being separated from my blog has caused a huge chasm in my creativity to form.

So here I am, coming back to my lonely blog and attempting to brighten its pages once again.  I have nothing profound to say or declare–only that I have truely missed sharing parts of my life’s journey, both funny and serious, with my few subscribers.  This post is merely to tell those who happen upon this blog that I am still alive and I have found my way back to my keyboard.

There’s A Reason It’s Called Long-Suffering

Day 11…okay maybe it’s Day 12, but I had every intention of writing this yesterday, so we’re going to say Day 11.

When I am running, which by the way does not happen nearly as often as it should, I break the exercise up into three stages.  First, there is the honeymoon stage, the first two or three minutes when I am so proud of myself for getting up and going.  It seems easy and I, without fail, always assume it will continue to be easy.  The middle stage, that is the hardest. It’s the half-way point, the point when I start to fear I might never reach my goal.  This is the point where my body starts telling me how out of shape I really am.  This is the moment when I know the truth and I have a choice–either I keep running despite the pain, or I walk. It’s that simple.

I feel like developing patience is kind of like this system of running.  For the first few days, it was easy.  The situations were cut and dry and they had clear answers on how to tangibly be patient.  But as I have journeyed on, the more difficult the task has become.  I think I have reached the point in my marathon where Christ is showing me some specific areas in my life that could use some changes.  For example, over the past few days for many various reasons, I have stayed up way too late and if you know me at all you know that I get pretty cranky when I’m exhausted.  But God has convicted me that patience is not just something you do when you’ve had plenty of sleep or when the sun is shining.  No, patience includesthe moments when you’re tired or hurt.  Just like in the run, when your spiritual legs are quaking, that is the moment when it is the hardest but the most beneficial time to learn what long-suffering truly means.

Like I said there are three stages of running.  The last one is the finish.  At the end of a run I am an exhausted, sweaty, shaky-kneed mess, but I am proud of myself for finishing.  I am proud of myself for pushing through the hard parts.  It’s the same with developing patience or any other virtue.  There will be a moment when, with panted breath and a sweaty brow, I will look back on the moment I started and see how far I’ve come.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Day 9 of my struggle with patience.

It is hard to be patient when you’re scared–scared that what you are waiting for will never come. It’s hard to be patient when there is no light at the end of your tunnel.  At my college service, “The Well” last night, there was a moment when our pastor asked us to get quiet before God and ask Him to examine our hearts.  There was not a sound louder than the soft, constant breathing of 150 college students who were getting still before a holy God–listening, waiting.  In that moment, I became completely convinced that it is in the quietest and most undisturbed moments of our lives that we are able to hear God’s faithful voice the loudest.  These are the moments where fears are quieted.

Like I said, patience is hard to learn especially when you are plagued by doubtful fear.  This virtue has been a difficult one for me to learn.  I don’t mind choosing a major on faith, as long as I am guaranteed job security.  I don’t mind waiting on “Mr. Right” as long as I know for sure that he will show up someday.  I don’t mind the thought of going to the mission field for an extended period of time, as long as I know where and when.  I use these as examples because these are the issues that have been on my heart recently.  I’ve been praying for God to reveal His will in my life, especially in these areas.  But Scripture does not say “wait on that dream job, it will come,” or “wait on the right guy, he’ll show up any day now.”  No, Scripture says “Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength.  They will rise up on wings like eagles.  They will walk and not grow faint.”

Maybe that’s why learning patience is so exhausting: because we are waiting on the wrong things.  There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and His name is Jesus. He is faithful and His will in our lives is what we, as Christians, are waiting on.

Being Patient With Patience

Day six of my struggle with patience.

For the first few days of asking God to give me patience, I was confronted with situations where I had to choose to be patient.  Now, I am having to learn how to be patient with myself.  My struggle with the former seems minimal compared to this.  It is not easy to forgive yourself, to allow mistakes and do-overs when there are short-comings in your life.  I am (and I suppose we are all this way) the type of person who likes to see immediate results.  When I go to the gym, I want to come home looking thinner.  When I decide to develop patience in my life, I want to be instantaneously patient. I want it to come naturally.  I want to immediately have a storehouse full of it and I guess I assumed that would be easy to aquire.  But here’s what I’ve learned:  patience is only obtained by being patient with the learning process.

Patience

For a long time, I have wanted to really invest time in studying the “love” section of 1 Corinthians 13. I’ve started this project before but I have always gotten hung up on the first trait of love: patience. On Tuesday, though, I decided that I would start this journey one last time, because this time I will finish. My goal is to spend twenty one days (the time it takes to begin a new habit) on each of the traits of love, starting with patience.

For the past three days I have been praying that God would give me the virtue of long-suffering and for those of you who have ever prayed that before, I’m sure you recognize how dangerous that can be. Needless to say, this week has been tough! It has been a relentless stream of one bump in the road after another and, after only three days of praying for patience, I am exhausted! Here’s what I’ve been reminded of though: God will never just send you a package of patience, free with batteries and instructions for installation. He will, however, give you opportunities for you to grow your patience. After all, what good is any virtue if it is never given the opportunity to be used?

So for the next few months, I will be giving an update every three days through my journey of applying the concept of truly loving as Christ loves to my daily life.  Hopefully this will keep me accountable, not only in my spiritual growth, but also in my dire need to blog more consistently!

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