Friday, December 19, 2014

How do you measure a year in the life? (13 Things I've learned sincefrom brain surgery)

A year ago today I had brain surgery.

In June 2013 I collapsed while running around Baylor (on the Bear Trail).  I was found by a lady who said I was convulsing.  I woke up in the hospital and went to the ER.  Because of possible seizure activity and high blood pressure, over the next two months they ran what seemed like every test out there.  Everything kept coming back negative.  BUT then they found something on the MRI.  They had me do an MRA to get a closer look.  They then told me that I had an aneurysm.  I, a otherwise healthy twenty-two year old, had a brain aneurysm.

A few months later on December 19, 2013, I had surgery to clip the aneurysm.  Two days after that I had a seizure.  I think it was my body's way of saying it couldn't take anymore.  I was automatically was put on a lot of medicine, which has been the struggle for a good portion of my recovery.

It's been a hard road, but I'm doing better now and finally feel like I'm back to being myself.

Here are some things I've learned:

1. Brain surgery sucks

Surgeons cut into your head, mess with the bone and nerves in your face, and risk your life... yah, it sucks.  There's no getting around that one!

2. Seizures suck more

I have the utmost empathy with anyone who struggles with epilepsy.  Seizures are awful!  Not only can they occur at any time but you may not even really be aware you have one.  Have two or more in a certain amount of time and you are diagnosed with epilepsy.  This means you can't drive for 6 months after a seizure in most states.  It also means that you're more than likely taking heavy doses of medicines that can mess with your brain.  For me the not being able to drive was devastating.  I can't imagine.

3. Medication really can mess with you

After my seizure they put me on 1200 mg of Kepra twice a day.  That, added with the hydrocodone for pain made for a horrible experience for those around me.  Going into the the next month I was so rude, anxious, emotionally and physically unstable, and on the brink of depression.  I couldn't drive, I was super tired, not hungry, and was falling into depression and anxiety.  My poor roommate dealt with this pretty well.  The turning point came when she found me bawling my eyes out in my restroom with the water turned on to mask the sound.  I was crying about not being able to drive.  I had my first suicidal thoughts in that moment.  I knew that this was not me and that something needed to change.

That weekend I went home and got my medicine changed.  A week off of it and I was better.  However, the new medicine made me dizzy and disoriented when I walked quickly or a significant distance.  Basically the only reason I got to class was because I was so focused and because I've known the campus for years.  I'm fairly positive I don't have epilepsy, which is what the medicine is for.  I don't take the full dosage anymore.

This whole experience has made me think a lot about how medicine, especially medicines for anything neurological, really mess with you.  They mess with behavior and emotions.  They mess with so so much.  This has made me think of issues dealing with addiction (with getting off of hydrocodone after a couple weeks) and how a medicine can alter the way in which someone acts and thinks.  It's kind of scary really.  I definitely have some hands on experience with neurological medications that should help later on with social work.  It gave me new insight and empathy.

4. Recovery sucks

I think that this surprised me a lot.  Beforehand I didn't think recovery would be too bad, but I did worry about it some.  A friend of mine growing up had brain surgery.  I knew that it was hard on her emotionally.  I thought that I would be fine and immune to that.  Not quite true.  Especially with the seizure, not being able to drive, and the medications.

Recovery was a struggle everyday.  Somedays it was easier, but some days it was just really hard.  Somedays at the beginning I would feel sick and not want to do anything.  Somedays were the opposite.

Perhaps one of the largest struggles of recovery was having expectations for myself but knowing that I had to lower them.  For instance, I wanted to take 12 hours right after surgery.  Shortly before the semester began I persuaded myself that taking four classes was too much and I only took 9.  That was a good idea.

Recovery was a lot more complicated that I thought it would be.

5. Aneurysms are horrifying

In case you don't know what an aneurysm is, it's a little pocket on your vein that forms over time from pressure.  This is why high blood pressure is so bad.  Veins in most of the body have two linings, but in the brain they only have one.  This is why aneurysms are most commonly there.  When these pockets get big, they burst.

What is the most frightening about aneurysms is that you don't know they're there.  Most health things are at least somewhat preventative-- eat healthy, exercise, treat your body correctly, and most of your health issues will go away.  Not aneurysms, however.  They're just kind of creeping in the background.   And you don't know you have them until it's too late.  Terrifying.  I even asked my parents if both of them could have MRA's for my Christmas present.

Even through this weird series of events, I feel fortunate to have passed out because it left to the discovery of this crazy thing.  It gave me some life back that I would have lost later on.

6. Aneurysm jokes aren't funny

"It's going to give me an aneurysm (or heart attack or stroke, etc.)".  Funny in the moment.  Not when you realize that those around you have suffered from that and it may sting from hitting too close to home.

7. Dependence

Since I couldn't drive I had to learn dependence in a way that I didn't want to.  This meant that I had to rely on friends to help drive me to the store, go to extracurricular things, and in general to get around.  This was really aggravating for me.  This meant no gym time or random trips to the store or coffee shops further than two blocks away.  I was really frustrated with it.  I tend to be a fairly independent person, so knowing that I had to get people to do something as simple as go to the grocery store was really aggravating.

But I have a friend who would drive me back from the library most nights, another who would pick me up for school sometimes, several who would take me to church events, and one who took me to the Farmer's Market each week.  The friends and the trips are endless.  For that I am entirely grateful to the extent that I have trouble forming words to describe it.

8. Empathy

A lot of the time when I would tell people what was going on they would respond with, "Well, learning how to not drive will give you empathy for the people you will work with in social work".  I knew this was true, but I didn't find it helpful at the time.  Now I do more though.  It's easier to look at things clearly in the rearview mirror of life sometimes.

It's hard.  I know I take my abilities for granted.  God knows I did and do this with hearing.  But also driving, living in a house, being able to move around freely, the ability to live successfully on my own, the ability to go to school, and numerous other aspects of life.  I think sometimes about what it would be like to be an elderly person unable to drive or move around and loose my independence.  What it would be like to be in numerous situations, because the situations really are endless.  Whether that tie of dependence is money, a ride, a relationship, or material possessions of some sort.
I've had a lot of rough experiences in life, as we all do, but I'm glad 'cause they give me a way to relate to others that I may not otherwise have.  God works through our difficulties to bring glory to him.

9. A good support system is priceless

Words cannot describe how grateful I am for the friends and family that I have who have supported me through the past year.  From the rides places, to the kind words, to the listening to me vent, and just being giving and wonderful people-- I am so so thankful.  I genuinely could not have made it through the past year without my family, friends from Columbus Avenue and Calvary Baptist Churches, Grace Presbyterian Church, Truett, Baylor, The Yoga Bar, and everyone else!

I am loved.  I am prayed for.  I am supported.  There is quite possibly nothing more humbling than reading through facebook posts of people saying they love you and are praying for you, looking at notes people have sent you, comments people wrote on my CaringBridge site, realizing the friends that have sacrificed their time and money to get me places, and realizing that above and through all, Christ has been working through what has quite possibly been the hardest year I have had so far.

10. To have grace with myself

This year has had two big themes that I feel God has been throwing at me: grace and sabbath.

Last Spring the theme of grace kept coming up in books I was reading and in church.  Grace toward others different than me, with others who disapoint me, with situations out of my control, and grace with myself when I am unable to do the things I wish I could do.  Recovering from any surgery or any illness, this is important.  If I couldn't walk as much as I wanted to or be awake or learn as much as I wanted to, there was a need for grace.  Grace to be gentle with myself and love myself.  Grace to be aware of my emotional and physical limits.  Grace that is first given by God through Christ Jesus.

Something that I did that I am proud of is getting a membership at the Yoga Bar in Waco that opened in February.  I had to start going in June once I could drive again, but it has been so great!  I have been able to stretch myself, heal myself, and gain strength-- all emotionally, mentally, and physically.  I have improved my balance, done headstands, forearm stands, and handstands, and gained a lot of upper body strength.  I am so thankful!

This fall semester the theme of sabbath has been screaming at me.  It was the main message of my covenant group, of church services, of my lifegroup, and the topic of random conversations that friends would bring up.  I think the biggest thing I learned is that sabbath is grace.  Sabbath is God giving us grace and a time to rest.  God knows that we need a time to escape from the craziness of the world, so he gives us rest within creation and the commandments.  It's beautiful, but something that I don't naturally do.  This semester I tried to implement this several weeks, but it was hard with my crazy school schedule.  I'm going to again.  The good thing is that I know God has grace with me.

11. It takes a long time to feel like yourself again...

"I'm finally starting to feel like myself again".  I've uttered these words.  I've struggled, but this summer I finally got to the point where I felt like I could say that.  It's been increasing since.  Gaining back self-confidence, self-worth, my mental state.  But I kind of struggle with this.  What is it what makes me feel like me?  Or rather, what is it that makes me not feel like me?  Or why am I not satisfied?

Being where I am mentally has been something that I have realized is important.  I need to dwell where I am.  I need to live where I am in the midst of the pain and hardship.  I need to accept myself for who I am.  I need to be okay with not being where I want to be for the time-- that I am two months out of having surgery and not feeling completely like who I know myself to be.  I have grace with myself and let myself be who I am.  Healing happens.  I can work towards it, but I need to love myself where I am.

It's kind of similar to what I've told a couple friends going through breakups recently.  It's okay to be sad.  It's okay to grieve.  It's okay to not be where you want to be.  You'll get there.  You'll be okay.  Just let yourself be where you need to be in this moment.  Recovery happens.  Time does wonders if you let it.

12.  Life is precious

There's something that happens once you have a traumatic experience.  You begin to look at life a little differently.  Slowly life becomes even more valuable, but at the same time you may not hold onto as tightly.  You begin to accept that things are not entirely under your control.  That if God is to have you die at that time, then that's fine.  But you rejoice with the life and the day that you do have.

At a reception my home church had over winter break last year, a man came up to me who had commented on my CaringBridge site.  I didn't know him, but he shared his story with me.  He shared his story of having a ruptured aneurysm and having life altering surgery.  His story was one of survival.  It was relatable to mine except that thankfully my aneurysm had not ruptured.  His joy though.  His utmost joy and passion for God who gives life.  His joy for family and his thankfulness for God giving him more life.  I was amazed.  I realized I have a great story and a reason to be thankful.

I feel very lucky.  I feel guilty.  I think it's unfair that I knew about my aneurysm in enough time to have something done about it before it ruptured when this is not the case for many, many people who die of strokes or have life shifted after them.  There are statistics that say that 1 in 50 people have an aneurysm.

Life is precious.  From a Christian standpoint this is clear.  We see this addressed in Scripture.  We see this through creation.  We see this through the incarnation.  We see this through the crucifixion and resurrection.  Life is a gift from God.  I'm thankful for mine and the lives of others.

13. God is good

This idea was one that helped me through a lot, especially working up to the surgery.  No matter what crazy stuff is going on health wise, God is good.

Some people talk about how God is testing your faith in hard times (I wrote a blog post about this during that time).  But my faith is not dependent upon my wellness.  My faith is not dependent upon the circumstances.  My faith is dependent upon Jesus Christ who I know through Scripture.  Not on my health or anything of the like.  To be so would be a faith that was shallow and not truly rooted in Christ.  God's not abandoning me or testing my faith.  Life happens, but God is good.

Thanks for the support, the love, the car rides, the listening, and the prayers.  Thanks for bringing light and hope into a crazy, crazy year.  I am thankful!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Lord, hear my prayer

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an every-flowing stream," Amos 5:24 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Last spring we learned this prayer in my covenant group.  These are small groups that Truett creates for us to grow spiritually in, keep accountable in, and to learn new disciplines of faith.  Last semester we learned the Jesus Prayer, the prayer listed above.

This prayer has helped me a lot when I am at a loss for words.  When the words I want to say sound more like shouts forming in my lungs, but I feel the Lord calling me to have a spirit of peace.  A spirit of prayer.

Tonight the Grand Jury came forward with a lack of inditement to the officer in Ferguson, MO who shot Michael Brown.  My heart is pumping diligently faster than usual, yet feels like it's falling into the hollow beneath it at the same time.

On one hand, I'm enraged that our country would let someone, an officer of the law, get away with shooting someone and leaving their body in the street for over four hours.  I would hope that in America we could see that a human life is worth more dignity than that.

But on the other hand, my Christian faith is one of redemption.  I am struggling to be thankful that Officer Wilson got a second chance.  I pray that he sees his wrong and lives rightly now.  I pray for his safety.

But more than anything, I am struck by the fact that this war, this cultural war that growing up I thought was for the history books, is now ours.  It's ours to fight for the oppressed.  For those who are  oppressed because of their gender, their orientation, their race, their economic status, their mental state, their physical state, their religion, and the list goes on.  Because while I know my facts are not all straight and I know that there are two sides to every story, especially in this case, I also know what the statistics tell me about many times people of racial minorities being targeted.

But it's a war to fight in peace. love. hope.

But I am also struck by the hate that has generated hate.  How the oppressed are becoming the oppressors.  A violent response is no better than the violence that began it, regardless of the reasons.

I am struck by the lack of compassion we have toward others.  I'm struck by the hatred we feel for others.  I'm struck by the questions that fill my head.

My thoughts are like circles that hamsters are spinning in.  Like the waves on a windy morning along the coast.  All I can do... all I can say....

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us.  All sinners.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Circle Tables

I read somewhere that Starbucks purposefully designed there to be little circle tables so that people who were sitting alone wouldn't feel lonely.  I like this.

My senior year of college, I sat at those circle tables a lot.  I had recently begun studying in the library more and realizing how wonderful it is.  I sat at one of those little circle tables.  I was probably filling in my agenda, working on final reviews, or looking at the checklist of things I had to do for graduate school and job applications for the next year.

On Youtube I stubbled across a song called, "Blessed are the Ones," by Audrey Assad.  She talks about being a servant to others and how they are blessed while having little (I think this is rather ironic when Christianity today speaks of being blessed by having material things and good health... but that's another post).  I was blown away by her music and words that spoke to what had been on my heart.  A developing need to serve others and to find a way to do this with my life.

Seminary is often referred to as a place where faith dies.  Where students become so bogged down with the doubts that others have struggled with before them, with the inconsistencies with Scripture, and with the day to day study of Scripture that isn't always as soul grasping like one hopes.

Not gonna lie, I struggle with this.  I think all of us do.  The overwhelming longing to not deal with these things anymore and to go back to the innocent faith that was before.  Asking ourselves why we're where we are in the first place.

Why am I in seminary?  Why am I in graduate school?  Why am I not working and getting money and saving for a house and hypothetical future children?

Lord.... why?

Tonight, after having dinner with a good friend and remembering what I tell myself is the reason why I'm doing this, I got in my car.  I turned it on and that song started playing.  As I drove back to the library where I filled out those applications two years ago, I allowed for myself to get intwined in the lyrics.  I allowed myself to get immersed in the greatness of wondering what it would be like to pour all of me out to serve others.

I remembered why I'm doing this in the first place.  I remembered that I'm using my blessing of having an education to make a difference for those who do not.  I'm doing what I'm doing for others.  For God.  Not for myself.

Those circle tables.  Those memories.  I didn't feel lonely.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Thoughts on Faith, Hearing God, and Deafness

"But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?  As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!'  But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, 'Lord, who has believed our message?'  So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ," Romans 10:14-16, NRSV 
The music starts.  The organist starts doing their magic, and suddenly we realize we indeed are in our favorite old church with multi-colored stained glass windows telling the story of Jesus, wooden pews with decades of use, and hymnals that are falling apart at the seams yet enriched with the scent that only old books have.  Or we find ourselves entranced by the sounds of the band starting as the lights dim, the congregation silencing as the worship leader plays a 4-chord progression on his guitar, and the preacher invites us into worship as our eyes close so we can soak in the beauty of it all through our ears.  We are in one of the places where we come to meet with God and to hear his message.

When I was younger (like twelve and younger), I wanted to be a famous pop star.  I loved singing and my parents forced me to take piano lessons starting in second grade.  I quit piano in sixth grade, picked up flute in band, handbells and choir at church, dropped flute, started piano again, joined school choir, started strumming guitar, and it's pretty much been a musical whirlwind ever since.  It's involved periods of no sound, periods of being surrounded by performances and concerts, and times of being told over and over by God that this is a talent he's given me but not what he wants me to pursue as a vocation.

On May 17, 2010, I woke up with bad vertigo and unable to hear in my left ear.  Over the next couple months, several hearing tests, steroids both orally and by a shot in the eardrum (yep, it's probably even more painful than it sounds!) I came to identify myself as half-deaf.  I had completely lost all hearing in my left ear by some freak accident (I blame artificial sweeteners, but that's another story).  The first time I sat down at the piano only lasted for about thirty seconds when I came to realize that the base notes were never going to sound quite the same again.

In the Bible we see examples of how hearing is good.  We recognize how we are to hear the good news of Christ and spread it through sounds we make with our mouths.  We recognize how we are blessed when we hear the good news of Christ.  My question is, what does it mean to spread the good news to those who can't hear?  Is hearing the good news something that is figurative or literal?  What does it mean to hear God if you can't hear?

When I was a junior I took a semester of American Sign Language.  I took this so that I could learn some sign so that I knew that I would be okay if I went completely deaf (real fear, y'all!).  That particular year the speech pathology school at Baylor was going on a mission trip to Honduras.  I got really interested, went to the information meeting, and even started my application.  That was one of the first times I realized that American Sign Language is not universal.  We would have needed to learn Honduran Sign Language.  And although I didn't end up going on the trip, I did learn something important that sits on my heart far more lightly than it should: the deaf community is the most unreached people group in the world.

There are several reasons for this.  Some of them deal with the hearing world's lack of understanding of the deaf community.  Some of them deal with the lack of knowledge that hearing people have of sign language.  But I think that possibly some of them have to do with how we hear the good news.  If we're told that we hear God and experience God in church and spread God through voice, then how do we do it when the other person can't hear?  How do we embrace others that don't experience God in the same way and physically cannot?  How can our differences unite us as one church?

The main question I want to tackle here though is, what does it mean to hear God when I can't hear?  If we put all this focus on the importance of hearing, then what does that mean for people who can't hear sermons or music or bow their heads while the pastor prays and know what he or she is saying?

Fanny Crosby was a prolific hymn writer of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  According to her Wikipedia page (legit source? ehhh...) she wrote over 8,000 hymns and Gospel songs, with 100 million copies printed.  It is debated if she or the Wesley brothers wrote more hymns.  What stands out the most about this woman is that she was blind.  Yet in her many songs, including well known favorites, "Blessed Assurance", "To God be the Glory", and "All the Way My Savior Leads Me", she talks about sight and seeing God in different ways.  Of how although she can't see, God leads her anyway.  The lyrics to "All the Way My Savior Leads Me" are as follows (italics added):

"All the way my savior leads me;
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
Who through life has been my Guide?
Heavenly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know, whatever befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well,
For I know, whatever befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.

All the way my Savior leads me,
Cheers each winding path I tread,
Gives me grace for every trial,
Feeds me with the living bread.
Though my weary steps may falter,
And my soul athirst may be,
Gushing from the Rock before me,
Lo! a spring of joy I see,
Gushing from the Rock before me,
Lo! a spring of joy I see.

All the way my Savior leads me;
Oh, the fullness of His grace!
Perfect rest to me is promised
In my Father's blest embrace.
When my spirit, clothed immortal,
Wings its flight to realms of day,
This my song through endless ages:
Jesus led me all the way,
This is my son through endless ages:
Jesus led me all the way."

To lead and to see are spoken of here not in the physical sense, but in quite a figurative one.  I can say that God has been leading me through life, but when I say that I also recognize that he has not literally been pulling my hand guiding in whichever way he chooses.  This is a kind of spiritual and figurative guiding that results from my individual time spent with God and in devotion.

Hearing is both the same and different.  When we talk about hearing God, most often we are talking about the figurative or internal call.  Not the kind of call Mom yells upstairs when it is time for dinner.  Hearing God in our lives is a complicated topic in and of itself with how to identify it.  However, people will agree that it is not where the heavens open up and God peaks out from behind a cloud and speaks in a mighty and manly voice, like in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

But not being able to hear in a hearing Christian world makes life complicated.  At least it does for me when I think about this.  Being a lover of music, so many emotions are caught up in that.  A song can evoke a memory of church growing up.  A certain pastor's voice can bring positive or negative emotions to the congregation.  The common thing in Christianity today is the need to feel God.  To come out of a service with a heart-warming joy that abounds from your time spent in community and with Jesus.  For me that feeling most commonly comes from music.  I have a feeling that is the same for many people.  If we can't hear the music does it mean that God is not in that place?

If we're told by God to tell the Gospel to others and to hear and receive, how does this correlate to someone whose ears don't hear?

I realize that I am not the best person to be writing this.  I am not fully deaf.  I am very much a member of the hearing community.  Although I have knowledge of the deaf community, I am not a member of it by any means.  And yes, this is a whole other community.  There are schools, churches, and other organizations for deaf people.  Some restaurants in urban areas are starting to become more deaf friendly as well.

While I'm talking about this division between the hearing Christian world and not having hearing, it's important to say that there are Christian groups that are doing stuff in this manner.  There are ministries in a few churches that minister to the deaf.  There are non-profits that focus on this.  Concordia Seminary has a Deaf Institute of Theology.  A few other seminaries and theological schools have deaf programs as well.  There is a book on Deaf Liberation Theology written by a deaf woman with her PhD (which I'm really interested in and will have to look into more later).

In lieu of my place in this matter, I think these are essential issues for us as Christians to think about.  As future and present leaders and members of churches, it is important as well.  Because deaf people aren't just people who can't hear, they're people who's whole lives revolve in a visual arena filled with other senses.  People who don't view themselves as disabled.  They're just people that happen to not have the sense of hearing.

If we're to tell the Bible, the way we tell it will look different-- maybe we will show it.  If we're to equip to go out, maybe we equip those who can sign.  There are many different ministries that churches can provide and that's something I would suggest churches look into.

My love for music, playing music, and listening to music hasn't changed.  I quit doing choir for the time being because it became hard to blend my voice.  This is going to change soon though I hope.  I try to sing more solo or to harmonize.  I've picked up guitar and continued playing piano and handbells, although I'm not playing that for now.  Music has been and always will be an important part of my life.

In his mid to late twenties, Ludwig Van Beethoven began to lose his hearing.  Being a wonderful musician and composer, this drove him crazy!  In 1802 he wrote a secret suicide note to his brothers.  He decided to not kill himself, hid the letter, and it was discovered after his death 1827.  Instead of committing suicide, he pursued harder after his passion of music, often feeling the vibrations of the chords through the piano instead of hearing them.  Over Christmas break I looked up the words to that letter since Beethoven and I share some similarities.  Beethoven reminds me that no matter what difficulties may come my way, especially from hearing issues, that if God has put a passion or purpose on my heart, I should find a way to make it a reality.  Hearing God's purpose for my life comes regardless of my ability to hear.

“...forced already in my 28th year to become a philosopher, O it is not easy, less easy for the artist than for anyone else - Divine One thou lookest into my inmost soul, thou knowest it, thou knowest that love of man and desire to do good live therein,” Beethoven

Friday, August 15, 2014

My Jesus Prayer, Tonight

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us, all sinners.

It's nights like these when I sit and tears come to my eyes as I am struck with the destruction we are doing to your world.
Genetically modifying your creation.
Ill treating your animals and humans.
Killing one another in Iraq and Ukraine and everywhere else.
Struggling over boarders.
Struggling over equality based on the color of our skin and any other difference.
Many other things I'm not remembering.

Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
Forgive us for our destruction of the planet you have given of us.
Of forgetting to love the people you have placed on the planet.
Of forgetting that people are your creations regardless of the color of their skin, their sexual leanings, or the religion they adhere to.
Of forgetting that we are no better than others because of what country we live in, our economic status in life, or our political leanings.

Forgive us for killing off other religions.
Forgive us for judging others.
Forgive us for not listening to each other.
Forgive us for our violence against our neighbor.
Forgive us for not welcoming our neighbor.
Forgive us for not feeding the hungry, not offering shelter to the poor.

Forgive us for not forgiving.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us...

ALL sinners.

Saturday, August 2, 2014


Nights where I stay up talking to people about things that matter mean a lot to me.  One of the last nights on my recent trip to D.C., a couple new friends and I stayed up talking about a variety of topics that are heavy on my heart-- the church, social work, the treatment of others, hunger, poverty, homelessness, etc.  Learning from others is something that I will never grow tired of.  I agree firmly with Robert Frost when he said that, "Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or self-confidence."

As we were sitting around a table, chowing down on popcorn, one of my new friends brought up a good and new point for me.  If I'm going to work as a social worker and minister, am I depending on the suffering of others to give me a career?

This is so important to think about as I'm working towards the goal career-wise of helping people.  I want to help people.  I want to help get rid of hunger and child hunger.  I don't want people to sleep on the streets, and I want children to have the access to a good, quality education and clean water.  So essentially, the job I want is to work myself out of a job?  Hmmm...

But with a world that is so disastrous, so traumatized by the heart break and the quivering frame that is its very existence, we know that ending all these things forever is a task that is not likely for a long time.  If ever.
I have a lot to think about.  WE have a lot to think about.  None of us can say that we have it figured out. None of us can say that the universal church is doing its complete job.  None of us can say that our arms and hands are fully extended in the business of helping others and demonstrating to others that we understand the humanity we believe God has bestowed upon him or her.  When we put all of our accomplishments and the hours that we spend trying to better our world next to Jesus, we are let down.  We realize that our individual efforts are minuscule in comparison.  We realize that "...the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength" (1 Corinthians 1:25).

I think to some extent we have to learn to live with tension. We have to learn to live within his dichotomy of how we believe the world or the church should work with food, for instance, and then realize that in the end people just need some in their stomachs.

I think a lot about what it means for the church to feed others.  What does it mean for us to be stewards of the creation that God has given us?  To truly revel in the joy of things God has created and to enjoy them?  To eat vegetables and fruits that God has blessed us with, yet we still deal with the very present realities of cheap, unhealthy, subsidized foods, the American diet, and small church budgets that result in potlucks of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and cookies.  These are some questions that leave me wondering what and how I am to react to this crazy world I am somehow a member of.

Musician Audrey Assad talks about this.  She says something that really resonates with me:
"I wish I had an answer.  A sort of spiritual bandaid for the great gaping hole between my theology and my practice.  'Cause I believe in God.  I believe he's enough for me, and yet, some days, a lot of days, I live like I don't get that.  I wish it was different.  It's hard to admit it, but I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this".
In context, she is talking about the dichotomy between being in constant prayer and simultaneously in rest.  But I think that this can be more than just this.  Developing a theology about social things and environmental things is just as important as developing a theology about the aspects of Christian faith that are generally regarded as being more 'spiritual' or that deal with our formation as Christians.  If I better understand, or have a better understanding of my own understanding of how I believe God views the environment and creation, then I can begin to think of how my own actions influence others around me.  I can also begin to see what my actions say about what I believe about God.

We must have grace for one another because really we're living in one large mess of juxtapositions.  Everything about our lives and living for Christ seems to be in conflict with the realities of the world.  There's something about this that is alluring yet repelling at the same time.  I sometimes wish that the Bible spelled out how to do things practically, in modern day context (actually, I wish this a lot).  Unfortunately, it doesn't, so we're left figuring out these complexities of the world.

If I'm going to work as a social worker and minister, am I depending on the suffering of others to give me a career?

Maybe even if this is true it isn't what really matters.  Grace is abound and Christ is alive.  People are suffering and I feel called to help.  Even if I'm "depending" on the suffering of others, my job is not from the suffering, my job is given to me from God.  The suffering does not come from my calling.  My calling comes from the potential of alleviation of suffering.  Of freedom, both spiritually and physically, through the real and resurrected Christ.  Of the suffering and my (hopeful) future vocation, one does not derive from the other.

This is a very complicated issue that requires much more thought.  But here are some of my ramblings.  Here are just some thoughts.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

20-Somethings in Coffee Shops

"When I was younger, I saw 20-somethings sitting at coffee shops and thought they must be so happy now that they're older and have their lives together.  Now I'm the 20-something and I see that life doesn't slow down and fall into place just because you're old enough.  Being older just means that you have to make time to stop and enjoy that coffee," Anonymous. 

There are times when I wish I could capture a moment in time.  As if I could capture the way that I mentally feel sound, my heart feels whole, and my awareness is at ease in a mason jar.  The same jars I used to catch fireflies in as a child on my grandparent's farm in rural Missouri.

There are moments when it seems that all the things that are bothering me slip away and I am left in peace.  Because the music at the coffee shop is perfect as I read Augustine's Confessions.  Because I just got done having an educated discussion with friends about a random slur of theology, environmental, and nerdy things.  Because I was sitting in the midst of a farm field on a summer morning in Texas, before the immediate sweat factor of the Texas sun comes into play.  Because I see my best friend after a few months of her traveling the world.

Someday I may miss these things.  No, I will miss these things.

How I wish I could put them on a shelf and pull them out for future reference.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Acknowledging Transitions

"In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on," Robert Frost

I played handbells for eleven years of my life.  I'm not currently playing, but I could again someday.  I'm fairly good at it, but that's besides the point.  I played in my church handbell choir growing up and then joined Baylor's when I came to Baylor.  I was one of the only people who remained in it all eight semesters of undergrad.

My second year in the group we got a new director.  One of the things that I remember him saying quite often was that the group would never be the same.  After each semester people would leave or have scheduling conflicts that enabled them to play.  The group that we had grown and unified with would never exactly be together again.

This is college.  People come and go.  They flutter in and out of our lives and in the groups that we interact with.  New jobs arise, times to travel arise, and things change.  People go serve in Africa, people move to different churches, take new positions, or just go travel in search of themselves and for healing.  And sometimes life takes turns we weren't expecting.

People have a need to be constantly moving.  We have this need to shake the itch that we can feel from staying in one place for too long.  Stillness can often be comforting, but there's a difference between being still in a moment to enjoy it and becoming complacent.  Complacency leads to change out of necessity.

I've found that in my life, I want to shift and change.  I want to go to graduate school, move across the country, take a job, travel the world, get married, have kids, etc. etc.  But I think, at least for me, that while we long to change, we secretly want the rest of the world to remain at least somewhat the same.  For those old friends to be there when we come back.  For the university that we dearly love and spent years at learning and developing into the essence of who we are, to somehow leave that little smudge that we made on a wall.  To resist the urge to paint over it.  The itch we feel for the scent of our childhood homes.  We have a need to feel needed among the past.

I've been doing a lot of yoga lately.  A yoga bar opened up in Waco recently, and this summer I decided to join in the fun.  Over the past two months I have seen myself get physically and emotionally stronger, heal my broken wounds, and to learn to love myself and my body more.  Everyday after yoga we practice meditation.  Meditation gets a bad rep in Christian circles (see previous blogpost), but in all essence, it is just emptying the mind to be in the current moment.  Acknowledging the past and the future, but focusing on now.  Acknowledging what God has given you, what is yet to come, and basking in the one that he has given now.

The other day I envisioned blank pages in a journal that I am working through.  The pages before have been full of things I'm learning and the troubles of the day.  The pages I will write on have yet to be filled.  But in that moment there is blankness.  There is now and now only.  Time to focus on my breath that God gave me.

Things will change and people will go away.  I will go away.  Goodbyes won't become easier.  Relationships won't become less meaningful, nor memories less precious.  But when we have hope, we long towards more than just what is.  We long for what is yet to come.

This is change.  This is college.  This is adulthood.  This is life.  This is death.  And in the words of Bob Dylan, "the times they are a changin'".  Time to grab on, 'cause it's not slowing down.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Drip of Water

This past week I was in Washington D.C. studying hunger in America.  I think it is important to distinguish between trying to solve hunger in America and trying to understand the problem of hunger in America.  We can talk all the talk, but to truly understand something, we have to dive into the problem from different points of view-- the macro and the micro.  Problems are far more complicated than one form of change.  This week we had the opportunity to do both.

This week I have thought a good deal about humanity.  What makes us human? How do we see the humanity of others?  Or more so, how do we fail to see the humanity of others?

One thing that we did this past week was to go to the White House.  We went to the White House a few times.  Once we toured it.  We went to a meeting in the Thomas Jefferson EOB building next door with Melissa Rodgers, a Special Assistant to the President and Executive Director of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships (and also a Baylor Grad!).

This time though, we stood outside of it on the street and were to observe power. What does power mean?  What symbols of power did we see?

There were several things people noticed, but one of the most prominent was how there were people inside of that house, going to sleep, and going through their daily routines: brushing their teeth, washing their faces, and tucking their children in for the night.  One thing that I have realized this week is that we often dehumanize those in the White House, in the Supreme Court, or on the Hill.  But after meeting several wonderful (and a few not so wonderful) people, that view has been challenged.  Even if they have views that may be different than mine, they are still human and deserve my respect.  Because even if I don't agree with the politics or ethics of who's in office, I still believe they are a child of God.  And I most certainly would not want to be president.

But being on this trip, I also got to see the flip side of that.

I started to think of what it would be like to be a homeless person laying on a park bench across from the White House.  This week I got to see how easy it is to be active in politics.  We can sign petitions, write letters, make an appointment and lobby, vote, and promote social change through conversation and social media.  But as I thought about the impact that those in poverty could make, I got sad.  I got sad because these are those who we most often dehumanize.  These are those we walk by on the street.  These are those we look down upon because they're a little down on their luck.

As I thought about what it would be like to be a person sleeping on a park bench, I thought about how dehumanizing it would be.  Being yards away from the most powerful people on the planet, but being on the opposite side of a fence, blocked by secret service, machine guns, and snipers.  Knowing that you have a valid point to be heard by high powers, but also knowing that they wouldn't take you seriously.  Realizing the powerlessness and the worthlessness you would feel.  As an educated person, I think it is my responsibility to stand up and acknowledge this humanity to others.

We have a bad habit of dehumanizing people who don't fit into our idea of what it means to be human.  Our idea of what we are.  We often have the most grace with people who fill our idea of what this means by our own contexts.  We view personhood through the lens that we know it--- ours.  When it comes to people of power, we give them tons of crap, forgetting that they have families, deadlines, and pressures.  When it comes to the homeless and those in poverty, we think they should just stop being poor.... as if there is a magic formula to end cycles of poverty and systems that are messed up.

Recognizing humanity requires humility.  Jesus does a good job of recognizing this.  In John 4, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at the well.  He asks her for a drink.  First of all, she is a Samaritan, a group of people that Jews do not affiliate with.  Second of all, a woman.  Women were drastically looked down upon at the time.  So here we see Jesus reaching out, asking to be served, and serving this foreign woman with the gift of living water.  He reaches beyond her gender and social status, and sees her for who she is, and offers her friendship and salvation.  Pretty nifty and radical as Jesus tends to be.

A question that I have thought about, and I know many others have questioned for ages, is what to do when you see the person asking for money on the street.  There are theories on whether you give them money or not.  Honestly, I think we should do what the spirit leads in this regard.  But if you decide not to give them money, or don't have it on you, don't walk around them.  Don't walk a circle around them.  Many of them haven't heard there name in days... or weeks.  Many of them haven't had their personhood acknowledged.

So while you may not be able to give them money or a meal to eat, you can still say hello, ask them how they are, his or her name, or offer a smile.  Think what a great story and example we'd be missing from the Bible if Jesus hadn't reached out and blessed the woman at the well.  Think of what a great story we'll be missing if we don't say hello to some of those who have the most the share.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

China Town with a Taste of Hunger

I saw something on Tumblr last week.  It was on a little, "Did you know?" page, and was something that they had posted that day.  It said that there are more people in the world today that are obese than are hungry.

I'm not sure how I feel about this.  

The first thing that passed my mind when I read this was that it was ill informed.  While there are indeed many people who are obese, some of those same people also struggle with hunger.  They struggle with feeding themselves and their families.   Often the food that leads to obesity is the food that is given to those in hunger, or is the food that they could afford.

What bothered me the most though were the comments that people wrote below.  "Wow, I never would have guessed!"  "We're ending hunger!"

I think we do this a lot with a variety of issues.  We try to find one sugar coated statement and we focus our whole mindset, social and political views, and even our own theologies off of it.  We fail to see the big picture because we're convinced that if someone is obese or overweight, that they can't be hungry.  As if hunger is only exclusive to the skinny, the ones with money, or the ones who can afford to be picky about what they put in their own bodies.  And we all should know that this doesn't just apply to hunger, but to a wide variety of issues.

This week I am in this nation's Capitol learning about hunger and what is being done to address it, as individuals, as a nation, as fellow human beings, and as the church.  Here I hope to learn more and widen my own horizons.  I hope to learn as a fellow person, but also as a Christian.  Jesus calls his followers to feed his sheep in the end of John.  It's important to learn about the issue and the people it affects if we should think of addressing it. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Riding on a Donkey

Lent blog #11

I don't quite understand Palm Sunday...

or the way that it's been celebrated in churches I've been in.

I started crying during the service last week.  That's kind of weird since it's Palm Sunday, which is supposed to be a happy service full of joy and anticipation for the coming of the Lord into Jerusalem.  And it was an exciting service full of "Hosanna", and palm branches, and a sermon on God's love... but I still started crying.

There were two thoughts that I really had while we were celebrating Jesus:

1) Why is it that the children are the only ones with palm branches?

But really... service I've been in generally have children with palm branches, or just the choir... which is a great demonstration of waving palm branches to God.... but it just seems a little odd to me, I guess.  I think we all should be jumping out of seats with excitement of the coming of the Lord.

2) Why am I celebrating?

Don't get me wrong, I know why I'm celebrating.  What I think I really mean, is why am I celebrating when I know the end of the story... when I know that less than a week later I will be shouting, "Crucify him!"

I was just struck down by the sense of guilt that I can't quite explain.  Because I see me in that story.  This isn't the version of me in the first century.  This is the version of me now.  I see myself getting caught up in the excitement, but questioning all I know when it comes time to judging whether this Jesus person should be put to death or not.  How do I feel about him?  Is this faith, or is it being caught up in the crowd?

Because I like to think that I would have the faith to stand apart... but I can't quite say.  I've never been put up to that point of stress and pressure to deny what I believe in.  I can't say what it's like to have a gun put to your head, or a whip on your back, or thrown in prison, or have your whole community turn from you... if I say yes to having the faith that I have.  I can't imagine it quite frankly, because it is not the world that I know.

What I do know is that Jesus was a great teacher, a healer, a friend to the friendless, and a man who was in his very essence God.  So with my lesson of grace that has been planting itself upon me this Lenten season, I should look at the characters in the Bible not just as fictional people who lived thousands of years ago and shouted to kill my savior and denied him... but I should look at them with grace, because beneath it all I see myself.

and there he comes... riding on a donkey.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A heart felt "Thank you!"

Lent blog #10

I clearly haven't kept up with this.  I think it's been useful and God has used it, but I don't think he's stopped loving me because of it.

This semester has been an emotional roller coaster for me.  Those close to me know this.

From recovering from brain surgery, to figuring out seizure medications, to having to deal with not driving, to interacting with friends, to dealing with myself, and school, and the freight and newness of change, and the craziness of the world, and uncertainty...  sometimes the world has felt like it was going to collapse on me, and my 4'11" self would have to strain to keep up.

I have learned some things, and these are things that I have to keep reminding myself...

I am loved.  I am prayed for.  I am supported.  There is quite possibly nothing more humbling than reading through facebook posts of people saying they love you and are praying for you, looking at notes people sent you, realizing the friends that have sacrificed their time and money into getting me places, and realizing that above and through all, Christ has been working through what has quite possibly been the hardest semester I have had so far.

So while often the response I will have to, "How are you?" is simply, "Okay", and it simply means that I'm just okay or struggling at that moment... it doesn't mean that I don't have support and that God isn't sovereign, that Jesus isn't teaching me things, and that I will be down forever.  Because I have friends who love me: ones who I have just met, and ones that I have grown up with.

So from the bottom of my heart, thank you. thank you. thank you.

I really think love is an action.... whether expressed in a facebook post, an e-mail, a hug, or a car ride.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Ten Stages of Writing a Paper

The dreaded school paper... being in seminary, I have realized that there are a lot of these, and that they usually follow a certain pattern... only varying slightly based on the type or length of the paper.  

Despite my roommate saying that the ten stages of this paper are "death, death, death, death, death, death, death, death, HOPE, and death" (she's an english graduate student by the way), I would beg to differ slightly...

So here we go!

1) Come to terms with the fact that you have to write a paper.

2) Think about said paper.... then forget for a week 'til the day before.

3) Get distracted by a friend... and talk for an hour.

4) Look up a couple sources.

5) Spend two hours scavenging through the internet on facebook, tumblr, Pinterest, Twitter, Blogger, Buzzfeed, etc.

6) Remember your paper, but also remember that it's 10pm.... so you go get coffee!

7) Write an outline and fill in a bit.

8) Start to write a blog post....

9) Lock yourself away, write, facebook, write, buzzfeed, write, text, write....

10) Go to sleep, wake up, finish the paper an hour before class is due and print it out...



Friday, April 4, 2014

Have Mercy on Me

Lent blog #9 (I'm way behind... my apologies)

"As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience," Colossians 3:12 

A few years ago at camp, one of my co-counselors was really bugging me.  She wasn't picking up what I felt was her share, wasn't being with the girls as much as she should, and was emotionally distant.  I began to grow very aggravated.  I didn't understand why she was behaving this way.  I liked her as a person and friend, but this was getting on my nerves.

I talked to one of my good friends about it.  He told me words that I have come to realize have impacted me greatly through my life.  He said, "Well, maybe she has something else going on in her life that you don't know about".

Over the next hours, I contemplated that greatly.  Was this true?  Maybe my friend had a point...

Later that day, my co-counselor came over to me and told me what was going on.  She had found out some pretty dramatic news about her health.  She was distant because she needed time to process what she had just learned.

How often do we do that?  Make assumptions about the way someone is acting and why she or he is acting that way?  How often do we allow our assumptions to dictate our actions? ... even oftentimes after strenuous amounts of thinking and praying?

This is something that I often think about... or I try to at least.  What is going on in the mind of those closest to me, and why are they acting the way they are towards me?  Do they mean it or is it simply an extension of another emotion they are feeling?

People are tricky.  I don't understand them.  I think it's funny that my two master degrees will be in theology and social work.  As if I could ever master God or ever have a theology that isn't shifting and changing throughout time.  And as if I could ever master knowing how to interact with people and systems in social work.  People are always changing and unpredictable.

But one thing remains certain: humans are a complication of circumstances.  My reactions to things are based on my past experiences, my situation at that moment, and morals and everything.  Real people are not stagnant.

And so this is why I depend on Christ's mercy and upon his grace.  Because I mess up.  I say things I shouldn't.  I react to friends how I shouldn't... and they to me the same.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Rest in You

Lent Blog #8
"You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our souls are restless until they rest in you," Augustine of Hippo, Confessions (c. 397)

I did hot yoga today for the first time today.  It was hard, but it was wonderful.  Yoga is one of my favorite things.  I feel so good right now, although I know that I will be sore tomorrow.

I understand the basis of many Christians being against yoga, it being something that Hindus do to relate to their gods... but I don't think that it is contradictory to Christianity.  Let me explain:

To me yoga is a time of exercise, stretching, and a time to clear my mind.  As an ex-dancer, the stretching that I can get with yoga is something I miss greatly from dance classes.  It is something that I yearn for.

But I also like it because it helps me to forget the craziness of my day.  I have to focus on my breathing, on finding strength for the different poses, and on finding inner peace.  An inner peace that is focused on loving myself and being secure of where I am in that moment.  An inner peace that ultimately comes from God.

We finish off the practice with meditation.

I think it's funny that so many Christians have such an issue with meditation.  In complete honesty, I don't understand.  I think it's just because of the 'negative' connotation that has for many people.

Really I don't think that these things have to be separate from God though.  If we believe that God is with us always, we believe that God is with us when we do yoga, when we drive our cars, and when we are in the deepest depths of life.  Meditation helps me to focus on knowing God is always with me, and helps me feel closer to him and to forget about my other issues.

One of the most important things that I learn from yoga is rest.  By focusing my mind, not on the things of my day, but on Christ, I am learning to rest in him.  To put my hope in him.  To gain my strength from him.

But rest isn't exclusively in yoga.  Rest for me is found in a hike outside, in sitting outside, in drinking tea and reading a good book, in waking up peacefully when I want to, sitting in the middle of a field and thinking about God...

The concept of rest is something we often forget to do in our crazy, busy world.  We focus so much on other things, that remembering to sit back, reflect, and rest in God, is something we don't do.

"Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed."- Mark 1:35

Take a few minutes to watch this video of Audrey Assad and a few band mates playing great music, and reflecting on what it means to rest, be still, and reflect on God.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Lent Blog #7

Clearly I'm not very good at this blog a day thing... but Christ, in his mercy, forgives.

One thing that I really appreciate about the Catholic faith is looking at the lives of saints, and at what they've written.  This Lorica, which is accredited to Saint Patrick, is beautiful, and means a lot to me.

A lorica is essentially a prayer recited for protection during medieval times.  Pray these words and lean on the Lord today in the Lenten season.

Lorica of Saint Patrick

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth and His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In preachings of the apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
From snares of the devil,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who desires me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a multitude. 

I summon today all these powers between me and evil,
Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul, 
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry, 
Against spells of women and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul. 
Christ shield me today 
Against poison, against burning, 
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that reward may come to me in abundance.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, 
Christ on my right, Christ on my left, 
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, 
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, 
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me, 
Christ in the eye that sees me, 
Christ in the ear that hears me. 

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through a confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation

St. Patrick (ca. 377)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

What did Jesus do?

Lent blog #6

Yesterday was crazy, and I realize that I forgot to write.  My apologies...

As I said before, lately I've been thinking about grace.  I've been thinking about what that means for my life, and what that means of what Christ did for me.  I've been thinking about how God's reflection of love, by giving me grace when I am in no such position to deserve it, is a reflection as to how I should extend grace to those around me.

I've also been thinking about betrayal.  That's a big word.  Or maybe it's a small, slightly overused word that only really has meaning to it when we feel it ourselves.  When we feel it, we are hurt by the people we put our time and our energy into.  We feel a loss of trust and a loss of friendship.

On my run this morning, I started to think about it.  All of a sudden I remembered that Jesus was betrayed.  I also thought it was weird that I forgot this.  If you're like me, while I may often quickly turn to prayer when I'm upset, I often don't think about the life of Jesus.  And then when I do, I more often question what would Jesus do?  Not, what about what DID Jesus do?

Jesus was betrayed many times.  What stands out to me the most is how Jesus was most often betrayed by those close to him-- his disciples.  Jesus betrayed him with one of the most intimate of actions-- a kiss.  Peter denied him three times, as Jesus himself predicted.  All the disciples deserted him in the Garden of Gethsemane after not being able to stay awake and keep watch: "Then everyone deserted him and fled," Mark 14:50.

So what does betrayal have to do with grace?

Perhaps Jesus' reactions to his betrayal and being deserted were filled with it.  And by perhaps, I mean that they were.  While Jesus first revealed himself to the women, they were told to tell the disciples that he was risen.  It was important to Jesus that the disciples knew of his resurrection.

Even in the midst of being betrayed, Jesus still gave his life for those who hurt him.  Jesus still forgave them.  Jesus still loved them.

So what does this mean for me?  My circumstances are far different than those of Jesus obviously... but I can't help but feel like grace is where God is calling me towards.  To treat those who hurt me with love and mercy even though they have hurt me.

Trying to follow Jesus is hard.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Expect More Grace

Lent Blog #5

Lately I've been thinking a lot about grace and forgiveness.  I think we forget how linked together the concepts in the Bible (love, grace, peace, hope, forgiveness, etc.) really are.

What does it mean for me to forgive others?  What does that actively look like in my life?

And yet, what does grace look like?

So often we take these super radical statements in the Bible, but don't think of them that way:

"For it is by grace you have been saved"-- Ephesians 2:8
The way that I remember grace is by defining it as an undeserved gift-- something that I don't deserve but get anyway.  This is Christ sacrificing himself on the cross for ME... dying for MY sin... taking on MY burdens... and being beaten and killed.  That is something that I don't deserve.  But he did it anyway.

And it is by that very grace that I can believe in him in the first place.  My sin separates me from God, but grace allows for me to enter into relationship with him.

"Bear with each other and forgive one another as I forgave you"-- Colossians 3:13
Forgiving people that hurt us is hard.  It's something that I struggle with, and God has really been working with me with over the past few years.

Because Jesus died for my sins, though, he forgave me.  And I don't deserve that forgiveness at all.  I have done horrible things to myself, to others, and against God himself.  No one of us is worthy of his love and forgiveness, but he gives it anyway.

And because he gives it to me, and I have been renewed by it many times in my life, I know that I am to forgive... no matter the struggle.

I've been thinking a lot about these things, and I feel like God has been wanting me to be thinking about grace especially-- it's the subject of the book I randomly picked up to read for fun, it's a huge part of Ephesians that I had to read for class tomorrow, and we talked about it today in my Covenant (small) group at Truett.

Be expecting more grace.
Feel free to give some out too.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Lent post #4

I forgot to write today, sorry!  But it's 12am and I'm still awake, so I'll count this.

"Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another -- and all the more as you see the Day approaching"-- Hebrew 10: 19-25

I have a lot of things circulating in my brain right now... but right now this passage is my prayer tonight.  

No matter what disagreements we have or whatever may come, may we spur each other on in ministry and love.  Unity in Christ.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Talk About Astonishing

Lent Blog #3

I order a lot of used books from Amazon.  This summer I bought The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning after hearing great things about it and there being a reading club for it at my church.  I never got around to reading it though.

Last week I picked it up off my shelf.

Today, as I was preparing to read some and to start considering what to write for today's entry, I stumbled upon this letter written in the back of the book.  One of the advantages of used books is that they have been used, and more often than not, loved.

Thankful this book had been loved.
and thankful that they took the time to write this.

                                         "June 2006

I asked you to describe your faith in 
five words.  That's a tough thing to do considering 
how vast God is and yet, how personal he is.  
So we have an intimate relationship with the 
creator of not only the Earth, but the 
universe -- and the creator of Heaven.  
Everything flows from God!  He has time 
for us.  He likes us.  He loves us.  He yearns for us.

                           Talk about astonishing.

Talk about        

Equally astonishing.  Well, not the word itself.  
And maybe not equally astonishing as God himself.  
But it is grace that allows us to know HIM.  
So, for us, grace is everything.

          Experience it.
                     Experience him.

Thanks, N.W.D.
I'm gonna try!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Excuse Me While My Thoughts are Scattered

Lent blog #2

Excuse me while my thoughts are scattered.  Doing a blog a day means that I don't have as much time to mull over issues and write and rewrite until things are fully comprehended.

This semester I've been taking an Urban Missions Issues class.  I have been learning a lot about a wide variety of topics ranging from how churches interact with their communities, how they engage the communities in which they are located, how they embrace the theology of mission, and how they deal with issues such as trafficking, mental illness, and disaster to name a few.  This has helped me to start thinking about a wider range of issues than what churches normally just think about.  It has also helped me to start thinking about how we as Christians, as churches, and as ministries approach different people, different issues, and the things that Jesus preached in the Gospels.

I think one of the reasons why I haven't written much this semester is because I have been trying to wrap my head around my experiences in this class, in my research for my graduate assistantship about international social work as mission, as well as my experience on a mission trip to New York over this past spring break.  Often when we think about mission we think of it being international and far off.  This semester God has been putting it close by.  He has been challenging me in many ways, many of which I don't understand.  He's going to do something with this I'm certain.  I just don't understand it or know what yet.

And that's something that is bothering me.  Here I am at a great school, creating great relationships, networking, putting things on my resume, and following what I feel God is calling me to... but I feel like I'm not doing anything.  I feel like I can talk all I want about the church having a mission focus, what that mission focus should be, how we should embrace God's creation, work with poverty, and love and serve others... but if I'm not living out what I'm saying, what good is that?

I feel like I'm sitting here waiting for the next three years to go by so I can have these two new degrees in my hand that say "Master of Divinity" and "Master of Social Work", and then I can go.

I know this is silly, because I know that God is going to use me.  And I know that he is using me.  I know that he has positioned me so that I can be in a place to learn and develop a skill set.  This semester has been a hard one and a struggle at times, but I don't doubt that it's true.  I think that sometimes when God is using me I don't even realize it.  I am just doing what I feel God wants me to.  I know I need to be better at listing to his call for my life.

God, grant me discernment, passion, and drive.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Love you, I do

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.   
-1 Corinthians 13: 4-8a

I think the idea of Valentine's is a great one-- a day to celebrate love!  How awesome is that!?  In our culture we stop and have a day in which we honor the loved ones in our lives-- mostly just our significant others... but other friends and family as well.  However, sometimes it seems that Christians forget what love is when it comes to the overwhelmingness of Valentine's Day in the world we live in today.  Now let me explain:

In our society there almost seems to be this divide that comes... are you in a relationship or are you not?  And if you are a Christian and older and single we come up with reasons for this... "God is just waiting to show you the love of your life".  "You need to work on your relationship with God more and then he will show you".  "You're too picky".  "God wants to use you as you are right now".. etc, etc.

I think there is a lot wrong with the Christian mentality over singleness.  After all, Jesus and Paul were single as far as we know... and they are the two most prominent figures of the New Testament.  Read this article if you want to read more about this.  A friend showed it to me today.  It does a far better job at saying this than I ever would.

What remains is the notion that there seems to be a division between those who have a relationship, and those who do not.

It seems that society has defined Valentine's Day by dividing people into these two categories-- the haves and the have nots.  AKA- those who consider February 14th to be a day of teddy bears, hearts, and chocolate, and then those who become more aware of their singleness, have an ever lasting resentment for all people of the opposite gender, and wait for the next day to buy cheap chocolate. 

But as Christians is that really the way that we should look at it?

Most people know that Valentine's Day is celebrated because of the life of Saint Valentine, but not many know his story.  There is much confusion around the origin around Saint Valentine.  According to The History Channel, there were several different Valentines that we could look at through church history, including a pope.  However, the guy that this holiday is said to honor was a priest who helped Christians under Claudius II.  He would marry Christian couples and help Christians to escape persecution.  For this he was eventually taken and executed.  He was stoned, clubbed, and then beheaded on February 14, 269.

Valentine's Day, which may have been invented by Chaucer in the Middle Ages in his "Parliament of Fowls", is therefore a day that we celebrate the martyrdom of a saint by eating chocolate, giving or receiving flowers, and going on romantic dates.... that seems a little odd, but that's just me.

One of the primary questions that we need to ask ourselves is, what is love?

All throughout the Bible we see examples of God's love for us.  From Genesis through creation and the ancestral narratives... we see love.  Through the quest to land in the Holy Land... we see love.  Through prophets... we see love.  Through Jesus and the Gospels... we see love.  Through Paul's love for his God and for the people of the nations... we see love.  This list is not final.  Through everything... we see love... and we see God.

In 1 John 4, we see that God is love and our definition and example of love is to come from him.  And because of that, the separation of those who have a significant other and those who don't seems irrelevant.  If Valentine's is a day of love, then I think maybe first we need to recognize the love that God has for us.  God is the embodiment of love.  In response we ought to love him.

"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers". --1 John 3:16
"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God". --1 John 4:12
What does it mean to love other people?  

The more I think about it the more convinced I am that the modern concept of Valentine's Day is a ploy for consumerism.  Shouldn't we show our loved ones that we love them all year?  Shouldn't we show our boyfriends or girlfriends or spouses that we love them and appreciate them all the time?  We can definitely celebrate it on Valentine's day, but this is not exclusively the extent to which God is asking us to love in the Bible.  While we're celebrating our significant others, we need to remember God's love for us.  And in response of that-- our love for him and for others.

I'm thinking as I'm writing here... but what if we saw Valentine's Day not only as a day of romance, but as a day also of love for others in response to God's love for us?  In a way, isn't that what the Bible talks about?  What if churches, Christian organizations, and Christians alike served others on this day and showed them that they are loved by the epitome and the essence of love?

Since God loved us, we should love each other.  If we love each other, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.  After all, God is love!  And since he first loved us, we should love our brothers and sisters in the same manner.*  

Here is a website with some little ways to volunteer.  It's kind of late for this year... but hey! there's always next! ::

*Paraphrased from 1 John 4:11, 16-21