Ministry Update: Looming Ahead

Hello friends! I have an exciting ministry update to share with you all! But first, a little context: 

As some of you may know, in 2005 I went on a two-week missions trip that changed my life. That summer, my youth group partnered with YWAM (Youth With A Mission) to immerse ourselves in urban outreach. It was here that my heart was deeply stirred for the cause of the vulnerable and the marginalized, and I knew then I would spend the rest of my life seeking justice and compassion for the oppressed through my love of storytelling.

The next 4 years I spent a lot of Friday nights under the Burnside bridge, washing feet and handing out socks and sandwiches. I loved getting to meet people there and I began learning the power of relationships in changing hearts. However, I still was operating from a top-down mentality. What can I give you? How can I help you? Instead of, How can we work together?

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Commitment to Celebration

In autumn, death comes like a cinder paintbrush, lighting up the trees in flames of red, orange, and gold.

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It’s as if the whole world has come together to celebrate the summer that was and the winter that will be. I think, when I’m honest, this is a challenge to me. How often do I find it easy to celebrate the summers in my life, and struggle to celebrate the seasons that feel more like death?

Lately I’ve been thinking about what it means to commit to celebration in our lives, as a spiritual discipline that’s more than simply giving thanks. What would it look like to celebrate the stuff that’s keeping me up at night? What would it mean to throw a party not for the new job, the new house, or a new year, but for the things I’m not sure I want to claim, the things I’m afraid of or don’t understand?

“Suffering brings us to the end of ourselves–our strength, our resources, our comfort, our understanding and wisdom, our plans and control–but as it does so, it can drive us to the One whose very being is endless. We often despise our limitations because we want to be strong and self-sufficient, but our weaknesses fit perfectly into God’s gracious salvation plan. For it is only when we are bowed low before God in humility that we are exactly where he wants us to be, and, surprisingly, where we most need to be–powerless to help ourselves and totally dependent upon him.”  -Sarah Walton

Paul said it like this:

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Romans 5:3-5

I’m not sure I’ve learned yet what it means to rejoice in suffering, but I think it looks a lot like autumn. The leaves that blaze in piles of glory may die, but they know the true secret: that what seems like death is simply a preparing for spring.

Celebration in the midst of suffering is the truest way I know to speak of the truest thing I know: that redemption is coming, that in some mysterious way every death can be the preparing for a new kind of life. A hope that does not disappoint, like every tree aflame with a fire that does not consume.

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Scary/Good

Some time ago, I realized my normal modes of exercise–mainly biking and walking–were primarily benefiting a certain set of muscles. My legs. Although I felt in good physical shape, there was a whole half of my body that never received a very strenuous workout. In order to right this imbalance, I needed to seek out exercises that targeted these weaker areas.

In some ways, the choices I make in my life are similar to the exercises I choose. It may seem like I’m in good shape, but when I look closely I’m very heavily focused on certain areas, with whole areas of my life ignored or uncultivated. Just like my physical body, these “muscles,” if not used, will continue to stay stagnant.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about risk. After years of making choices, we are (often unconsciously) choosing what muscles in our life we want to be strongest. Years of making a safe, easy, or comfortable choice will cause those muscles to become my reflex response. The more I choose comfort and security over risk, the more I’m closing my heart off to all sorts of scary but wonderful things God might bring me.

Choosing to embrace risk, doing things that are good but scare me, is a way to begin building strength in other areas, knowing that more scary things will inevitably come and these extra muscles sure might come in handy. As reluctant as I might sometimes be, I want to keep doing something that scares me every year of my life. I want to keep saying yes and building my muscles of trust, creativity, prayer, and dependence upon Christ.

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What are some things that really scare you? I’m not necessarily talking about spiders, snakes, or steep ledges–although I totally get that. But what really terrifies you deep down?

Rejection? Failure? Isolation? Meaninglessness? Not-enough-ness?

Me too.

There are some days we look at our life and think, why risk it?

The point is not that risk is inherently good, but that life is about these sort of small choices we make every year of our lives. This isn’t about gaining points by being a crazy risk-taker, but re-aligning our priorities so that we’re willing to take risks for the sake of big and beautiful things. Discerning when to step into this risk intentionally, and the process of embracing it, is what exercises our muscles of dependence on the Spirit. We learn to pray, live, and love Jesus differently when we’re out of our comfort zone.

Here’s who I want to be: someone who enters into risk with the full acknowledgement that I need both wisdom and courage, that I don’t have enough of either of these on my own. I want to step forward towards good/scary things because I know whether I fail or succeed, just the very act of stepping forward is a victory.

And once I’m there, I want to look back with a knowing smile on my face, recognizing that Jesus led me all the way, and turn my face towards the future and say,

“Let’s try again tomorrow.”

 

Only Love Remains

I heard once that in previous centuries time was not viewed as a line you move through, with a beginning and an end, but circular–the way the sun rises and sets, or the year always circles back to spring.

In my own heart I often recognize this circular pattern. I learn something true about living every day, and I do my best to remember it. But new thoughts come, distractions drift my mind away, and the sharpness of this truth becomes dulled. Months later, I’m reminded of these truths again and around the circle goes. My prayer is that each time becomes like the blow of a great hammer, driving it deeper and deeper into my soul. Like the unforced rhythms of grace.

When I first started this blog nearly three years ago, one of the first things I wrote about was love.  The more I live & pray about living, the more I’m convinced that this is each of our great lives’ works–the work of love.

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Christ My Prize

Oh, God, be my everything, be my delight
Be, Jesus, my glory; My soul’s satisfied.

This past month has been one full of so much refreshment and so many mixed emotions. Joy at seeing wonderful friends from all over the globe, sorrow from the many goodbyes that came after, and a whole lot of wonderful conversations, laughter, and honest, raw moments in-between. I feel so incredibly thankful, and yet at times I have struggled with contentment, feeling discouraged or inadequate because of the vulnerable place the last six months have brought me to. Continue reading

We need them.

Happy June! This weekend Ben and I celebrated our fourth anniversary–crazy! In some ways it feels like we’ve been married for a while now, and in others it still feels like we’re just beginning this adventure together. I’m so thankful for his support and presence during this especially hard season–he has truly been amazing. Although I still have some up & down days, I’m also so thankful to be beginning to feel better, have more energy, and hopefully be on the upswing for good!

June started out with an exciting trip for us, as we traveled to Chicago to attend the Justice Conference, held at Willow Creek Community Church. We heard from many powerful leaders of faith during the two day event, and I thought I would share a little of what we’ve been processing afterwards with you.

In the past year or so, both Ben and I have begun to dramatically shift our thinking away from seeing injustice as an individualistic issue, to learning about systemic injustice and broken systems that perpetuate suffering for so many people. This past weekend really cemented our convictions that in order to really change communities and see justice long-term, we have to address these bigger realities. Our God is a God who goes after the one lost sheep, but who also gave himself to defeat evil universally. We find ourselves asking: How do we learn about the complexities these broken systems? What can we do to change them? How can we help without hurting? And how can we not neglect the needs of our neighbors individually as well? 

Second, I was so inspired by the words of many speakers, reminding us that justice work is not about “helping” or “fixing” or any type of mentality that gives us the role of savior, coming in to save the day. I loved hearing Sandra Van Opstal share about vulnerable members of her congregation, and how she is inspired to seek justice because she realizes that she needs them. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Russell Moore:

“We do not need more ‘ministry’ to the poor or racial minorities or immigrant communities. We need to be led by the poor and racial ‘minorities,’ and by immigrant communities.

…The child with Down Syndrome on the fifth row from the back in your church, he’s not a ‘ministry project.’ He’s a future king of the universe. The immigrant woman…is not a problem to be solved. She’s a future queen of the cosmos, a joint-heir with Christ.

…No matter how important the United States is, there will come a day when [it] will no longer exist. But the sons & daughters of God will be revealed. Some of them are undocumented farm-workers and elementary school janitors right now. They will be kings and queens then. They are our brothers and sisters forever.”

May we continue to advocate for those on the margins, looking for ways to bring their voices to the table, because we need them. 

You do all things well.

I recently re-discovered Tenth Avenue North’s album The Struggle. Many of their songs focus on making sense out of suffering. I’ve found myself thinking a lot about these lyrics in the past few weeks:

All I hear is what they’re selling me
That God is love, He’s isn’t suffering
And what you need is a little faith in prosperity
But oh my God I know there’s more than this
If You promise pain, it can’t be meaningless
So make me poor if it’s the price for freedom

I wonder sometimes how innocently I’ve believed the lie that what God wants most is for me to be happy. Of course in my head I know this isn’t true; although God loves me, what he wants most for me is my joy in becoming holy, in becoming more like Christ. But to follow Christ means to follow the way of suffering. So why am I alarmed, as Paul says, that I must suffer as well, whether it may seem big or small? Continue reading

Ups & Downs

Sometimes life is a wild ride. Sometimes just when you think you’re regaining your control of it, it defies your illusions and shows you just how little control you really have.

I’m usually not someone who has trouble being flexible, but at the beginning of this year I was really holding tightly to my plans for the next 12 months. And instead, the past three months have felt like utter chaos and I”m still a bit woozy from the whiplash.

This last month has been encouraging in many ways. I’ve begun to feel better and am hopeful that I am finally on the upswing, even though it will still be a gradual road. I’ve also been blessed with a lot of sweet moments with friends, new and old. I’ve been given a glimpse into just how precious this life is here that I live, and this has made it much easier to let go of my thoughts of what this time was supposed to look like.

But when I’m totally honest, some days are still a struggle. I struggle with looking back and wondering what I could have done differently to bring a different outcome. I struggle with guilt over how my problems have impacted those closest to me in ways they didn’t deserve. I struggle with wanting to control the future–wanting to guarantee that the next few months will bring full healing, that our trip to Europe was merely postponed instead of cancelled, and that life will continue on like it was before February.

The problem is that nothing in this life is guaranteed. The only thing each of us can do anything about is the moment we’re in right here, right now. NOW is the only guarantee.

Except Jesus.

Because while I want to control the future and make amends for the past, the only thing I can cling to in utter assurance is Christ. No matter what the future days, minutes, hours hold, he will hold me fast. I am guaranteed his presence and his eternal life. I can rest confident in his faithfulness every moment, every day.

One of my continued prayers during this time is for this season to help me recognize even more the beauty and sufficiency of Christ. Years ago, I sort of claimed this verse to be my life’s theme, and now I pray that the Lord would help me understand the meaning even deeper and richer this year:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.    – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Thank you, Jesus!

Goodness on Good Friday

We sat there, dangling our legs on the dining room chairs and chatting about sports and travel and favorite hobbies when he said it.

I don’t know how it is that sometimes God speaks to us so directly through another’s mouth. But as we sat there “ooh”ing over pictures of their granddaughter and joking about who does the dishes in our house, the topic shifted to struggles & pain. He folds his place mat deliberately.

“You know, I used to have many people pray over me for deliverance from the pain. And as the years went on, I started to feel guilty, ashamed that they weren’t answered.” He looks up, straight into our eyes.

“And now I’m beginning to realize. God isn’t taking away my pain because he knows there is something better.

“The pain is what keeps me focused on the goodness of God.”

I let it sink in for a moment. Just hours  before I had confessed to my husband that I wasn’t always sure what it meant to truly rejoice in the Lord. There are so many distractions in this life, and good things like health, success, or happiness can be just as guilty. When we find ourselves without them, what then? How do we rejoice in the “things unseen”?

So we do not lose heart…For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

When I look back at each season of my life, I want to be able to say, “This one showed me even more of the goodness of God.” So I’m beginning to keep a mental list of the blessings of this season:

  • Getting to see friends & family who I would have missed from being out of the country
  • Experiencing the humble blessing of receiving instead of giving. Being part of a church & community that has supported us & loved us so well.
  • Learning contentment in “everyday” life, something I have always struggled with
  • Reading several very timely books which I can already tell are going to shape my thinking for the better
  • Letting go of finding my worth in what I do, and focusing more on cultivating a sense of value in who I am.

This Good Friday, we gather to remember that what seemed like failure & disaster to the world one day, suddenly became the most glorious story ever told a few days later. And although my story is much less painful in comparison, I love remembering that even here, the newness of life will spring forth in ways I never imagined.

The pain may be the very thing that keeps us focused on the goodness of God.