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.

The Beautiful & the Real

“Let this Lent dismantle everything that isn’t about eternal things.”

This week I read these words, and my spirit echoed yes. These are the words I am grasping for in an unexpected and difficult season of life.

Ever since we made the decision to postpone our trip to Europe, my prayer has been for this season to make me a more beautiful person. It sounds a bit strange to say it out loud, but I have always been strongly motivated by beauty. And that’s exactly what I found last time we were in Amsterdam–a beautiful city, beautiful people, and a beautiful glimpse into God’s redemption amidst brokenness. So as I imagined what I would miss most about cancelling our trip, I thought of the relationships with students & opportunities to serve. But I also thought, I’ll miss getting to see all the beauty. 

This week I really needed the reminder of words like these:

The most fulfilling lives seek out the meaningful — more than the beautiful. Meaningful over beautiful. 

The most fulfilling lives actually see the meaningfulas the most beautiful.

Any craving for the beautiful — is really a craving for Jesus.

Recently I finished reading The Lucky Few, a story of one family who chose to say “yes” to hard things, things most of us would struggle to accept and would hardly ever choose. In the book, the author talks about what they would have missed out on, had they been looking only for lives that were easy, comfortable, or beautiful. I was struck again by how quickly we see difficulty as misfortune, a barrier to our best life instead of a mysterious new gateway into it.

This Lent, this season of dismantling and giving up and letting go, is a picture of the Death that must precede the Resurrection, the most beautiful reality of all. And I pray that it will teach me what it means to embrace each day with arms wide open, welcoming the beauty in unexpected places. May it teach me to look for the meaning and find beauty there.

Not my will.

I always have high hopes at the beginning of each year. I make lists and plans and envision a year of adventure, meaning, and quite a bit of activity. I suppose I’ve always been tempted to worship the idol of amazing experiences, whether it’s a Saturday afternoon picnic, a gorgeous waterfall hike, or a trip to somewhere new. My husband and I are always keeping a running list of new cafes or bakeries we want to try, day trips we want to take, projects we want to accomplish. It’s the same way when it comes to serving God and doing good–my desires for doing justice & being part of grand stories can feel unquenchable. I struggle the most with the small, faithful, insignificant acts of doing good.

And this January didn’t start out any different. We made lists and booked summer campsites and started dreaming of adventure. We talked about snowshoeing and beach trips and Sunday hikes. And then, in mid-January, I got sick. After a few weeks I went to the doctor. And so started a chain of events in which the last few months have been a blur of up & down days, sometimes feeling well and sometimes not, and taking each day as it comes.

More than anything, this has been a huge exercise in humility. I’ve learned what it feels like to cancel plans with the same friend many weeks in a row, and wonder if she’ll still want to hang out with me after this. I’ve learned how hard it can be to admit when you’re still struggling and wonder if people are starting to view you as a tad bit overdramatic. I’ve learned how hard it can be to ask for help for stupid stuff like keeping up with your laundry. I’ve also learned how completely I’ve taken so many lovely people for granted, including my family who has shown up at appointments, made us dinner, and done that stupid laundry.

I’ve put off posting this for weeks now, waiting to share this with the world until I can say, “And you know what? I feel great now and look at all I’ve learned!” Instead, here is the hard news I have to share: we won’t be headed back to Amsterdam this Spring, after all. We’re still not sure exactly what is making me feel unwell, but my doctor gave me the “no traveling” ultimatum this week. And although I know it’s the right decision, I’m really struggling with it. I’m struggling to say, “Your will not mine,” when having to let go of something I looked forward to so much. I’m struggling with letting people down, having to send those emails and cancel plans last-minute, wondering when the next opportunity will come. It’s discouraging and, at times, stressful. Yet I know my God is good, and I know His plans are far bigger than this. I know that what to us could look like evil, he will use for good. I pray that he will use the next few months in ways I could have never imagined looking back. I pray he will teach me what it means to remain faithful in the small, unexciting ways as well as the grand adventures.

“Oh grant me wisdom from above,
To pray for peace and cling to love,
And teach me humbly to receive
The sun and rain of Your sovereignty.
Each strand of sorrow has a place
Within this tapestry of grace;
So through the trials I choose to say:
“Your perfect will in your perfect way.”

(full song here)

Two months out.

I’ve taken a pretty long break from writing. Partially because I’ve been reading a lot. Partially because I’ve been sick. And partially, to be honest, because it feels like right now, there’s no words at the tip of my tongue, like there usually is.

In exactly two months the SHINE Seminar 2017 will be underway. We are beyond thrilled to be going back to Amsterdam and reconnect with some great people in that neck of the woods. (We’re also pretty thrilled to be eating stroopwaffles on a regular basis again). It’s a season of in-between, trying to remain faithful where we are and yet beginning to prepare for what’s ahead.

I’ve been making good progress through my reading list so far this year, and sometime soon I’d like to share a little bit of what I’m learning with you all. In the meantime, I’d like to leave you with a couple of songs that have really been encouraging to me in the past couple of weeks. As Valentine’s Day approaches, may we remember our fullest example of True Love, who holds us fast every hour!

Oh the Deep Deep Love of Jesus–Audrey Assad

He Will Hold Me Fast–Getty Music

 

Season’s Greetings

Another year, another Christmas letter! Merry Christmas from us both to all of our friends & family out there.

As I’m writing this, the snow is flurrying in the wind, soup is bubbling in the crock pot, and a cup of steaming tea sits by my elbow…life’s little blessings are so good. And yet this year we have also been blessed in big ways as well as small, in challenging and painful ways as well as joyful. Ben and I have been spending Advent reading through the daily prayers from The Divine Hours, and it’s been so profound to spend time praying towards the coming of Christ together, anticipating the echo of his second coming, which we all long for in this crazy life!

To highlight some of the big events in our lives this year:

  • Jenna has begun writing more for several online publications & blogs, expanding her “justice” interests from simply anti-trafficking work to many other areas. She has also joined the writing team at her church, helping develop women’s study curriculum.
  • Ben is still working at CIS Oregon and auditing fun classes at PSU on the side. His interests in urban development, politics, and social justice continue to grow as well.
  • We began a new adventure by “adopting” a refugee family from Iraq this July, along with a team of seven others from our church. It’s been eye-opening and a blessing, to say the least!
  • We traveled to Minnesota to be with Jenna’s side of the family after the passing of her grandfather this fall.
  • We traveled to Asia (specifically Sri Lanka & Indonesia) to visit some good friends (and eat a lot of delicious food!)
  • We’re continuing to learn what it means to love others & listen well, befriend the “other,” and spend ourselves on behalf of the needy.

In other news, it looks like we’ll be headed back to Europe in Spring 2017! Jenna will be assisting with the Shine Seminar this year, and Ben will be working remotely and being amazing support as always.  He’ll also be coordinating technology for the Mobile Ministry Forum’s 2017 conference in the Netherlands.

Our first few years of marriage, Ben and I used to joke that we could give ourselves slack, because we were simply “baby adults,” trying to figure out the world together. Now, however, we consider ourselves moving into the “toddler adult” stage–starting to form stronger opinions and wills of our own, yet constantly running up against our own limitations and inexperience. We’ve tried a lot of new things this year, and learned a lot along the way. We’ve also made a lot of mistakes, which I suppose is part of the process. I’m so thankful the grace of God is big enough to cover over it all and redeem it into part of His Story.

In the midst of a world that feels harsh & increasingly polarized, and the consistent desire we feel to be doing good & life-changing work, we keep coming back to 1 Corinthians 13:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” 

And now these three remain: Faith, Hope, and Love.

Merry Christmas, everyone! May you be blessed by the faithful love of our Lord, who is with us in the midst of our pain and our questions, and redeems both our sorrows and our joys for His Glory! We are so thankful for each of you!

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And here we are.

That afternoon, I read the news about Aleppo.

I couldn’t stop the tears from coming. There are unsung heroes all over the world, just as there are in Aleppo, rescuing children and standing up to danger and carrying on despite the near-impossible conditions. Their strength and bravery humble me, and their suffering breaks me.

Hours later and worlds away, I’m standing in the checkout line with a pumpkin pie and can of whipped cream. We drive to the apartment, hoping they understood and are expecting us. From outside, we can see the light shining out through the curtain, casting shadows like crosses on the street below.

The door swings open seconds after we knock. Continue reading