Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Appeal of Hatred

What do you think of when you hear the word "hatred"? Do you think of Mean Girls, of high school drama and pettiness? Or do you think of something more sinister, like the Holocaust and genocide? Do you think of how people have hated you? Or how you have hated other people?

As Christians, we are supposed to be unfamiliar with hatred. Correction: we are bound to be familiar with hatred directed toward us, as the world hated Jesus. But we ourselves should never hate.

But what about when we do?

Hatred is attractive. It is much easier to dismiss someone else as any of the following: as stupid, as thoughtless, as unreasonable, as crazy, as arrogant, etc., than to actually sit down and understand them. Or, God forbid, to actually talk to them and listen, and do one unbelievably gracious thing: to give them the benefit of the doubt.

It is so tempting to become envious before we consider what someone's life might actually be like. I cannot stress how easy it is for people, for Christians, to judge before they listen and think. Try this: the next time you are at a party or another social function, try and catch all the times you make an assumption about someone. "Look how she's dressed..." Check. "He is SO loud, it's like he's out of control..." Check. "There she is. She's always so smug, isn't she?" Check.

Now, you may be thinking, this is all judgment, certainly. But is this actually hate?

Well, friends, hatred is really anything that is not love. In that way, it is really that simple. And it becomes apparent how rampant hatred can become in our hearts.

We sometimes think that because we love our friends, our family (most of the time), the orphans in Cambodia/Uganda/Tajikistan, certain celebrities, our church family (for the most part), then that must make us loving people. Maybe we even try to forgive our enemies. And that all is considerable, and commendable. But what about those gray areas?

Culture on the internet seems to have no patience for people who are difficult to interact with, or people who have different political or moral views. Attitude and the "self" have replaced grace and compassion. It is more important to "people on the internet," which really means people in real life, to be clever than it is to be caring. Believers should really be aware that what the internet espouses is not really, you know, biblical.

I feel like most people understand this, at least on a certain level. Of course we should not buy into self-centered thinking. But as always, it's much easier realized than practiced.

Something that I have heard and which really convicted me, really made me examine my own heart, is this: Jesus calls the broken, uses the weak, equips the flawed, and generally makes the losers in the world his most effective tools. That person that you cannot stand, who has an abundant number of problems and spreads them around, is actually one of Jesus' most useful catalysts for his kingdom. I'm talking about believers here, but this should really help us see the potential in everyone, in Christians and nonbelievers alike. Furthermore, it should inspire in us a deep respect even for those we think are foolish, selfish or incapable. Hatred is never more hidden, or more fatal, than when we think it is deserved.

Pay attention to how you think of people and you will find that you have silly reasons for not liking them. I have to admit, there are many times, often in social situations, when I am easily annoyed. I notice little, tiny conflicts and the second I see someone else's mistake, I jump to conclusions about their personality. It's not because I don't like them, at least not at first. Mostly, from the get-go, it's because I think they're wrong. And more than anything else, I want to be right.

We need to let go of the need to be right. I think this desire to be justified, to be righteous, actually powers a large amount of the avarice in the world. When we can admit that we don't know it all and that our opinion is not supreme, we create room in our hearts for other people. Their deficiencies can actually become beautiful, when we allow them to be seen in light of Christ's sacrifice for them. What if we saw their redemption the same way we see our own? If we are thankful for the way Jesus forgives us, that can be the first step for us to be thankful for the way Jesus forgives other people, and that enables us to forgive them, too. Not as perfectly, but at least our minds will be able to see the grace that covers everyone rather than jumping to seeing flaws as if they had not been already covered with the blood of Jesus.

We so often jump to hatred. We do, and we will. But we can begin anew. We can continue our sanctification, and as we grow both wiser and more compassionate, we can leave certain behaviors behind. And perhaps hatred will become a little less predominant, and a little more foreign in our lives.

To donate to my time in Romania working with teenage orphans, please click here!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Lemonade

There are things that happen in this life that are out of our control. We have no power to stop the weather, for example. We cannot prevent certain illnesses, and sometimes cannot even tell when they are going to strike. We cannot force our children or family or friends to do the right thing, even if it is obvious to us and those around us. Powerlessness is a fact of life, and a result of the fall of humankind. In short, it sucks.

What I want to focus on here is how we are often powerless to change the mind of another person, but that should not leave us in defeat. Let me explain.

My first semester at college was a train wreck. I floated between times of mania, which consisted of euphoria and transcendence, and times of depression, which made me feel hopeless and subhuman. Unfortunately, the mania was just occasional, and my life became overcome by the belief that I was evil, and that the core of who I was needed to be eradicated.

I had no idea that this fluctuation is known as a “mixed state,” a variation of bipolar disorder. And unfortunately, everyone around me had even less of an understanding of what was happening to me.

Early in the semester, I went on the Intercultural Studies retreat. And for some reason, starting with the first session, I could not stop crying. I was broken, but I had no idea why. I talked to various people throughout that retreat, but I could not express what was wrong. At one point, I could sense the frustration of a female student who was trying to help me, because even as we talked and prayed at length, I was not getting better. I just felt all wrong.

Being in an environment where the spiritual is thought to surpass the physical, I could not help but feel, as the retreat passed and my depression became more regular and less obvious, that my spirit was what was wrong. What was so messed up in me that made me so different from all these relatively carefree students?

Probably the worst part of all this was that I had no one to talk to at my college. I was new here, so no one knew that I was normally “okay,” and that my new feelings and behavior were not typical for me. Yes, I suffered from a constant, low grade depression all during high school, but I was able to function in society (for the most part). But here, at Biola, I was more broken than ever. And it was all my fault.

That’s how it felt, at least. I was responsible for my own actions, right? I was an adult. People expected me to get on with life. They could not see inside my head. And I was powerless to make them understand what was happening to me…because I did not understand it myself.

This horrible semester ended. And I began spring at Biola with a renewed faith in the future. I only knew that I had been tentatively diagnosed with major depressive disorder and a generalized anxiety disorder by my overwhelmed grad student therapist. I thought I was getting better.

Then the full-blown mania hit. I was up and away, out of sight. I fell in love with an older friend, passionately, completely. I exploded on Facebook. I was completely blind to the conventions I was breaking, caught up in a spiritual revelation. I had no control over it and I didn’t know that there was actually something going wrong. It felt so absolutely right and true. I was powerless.

The friends I had made dropped me, if not that first spring, then the spring that followed, which played out very similarly. After the first spring, they put me on lithium carbonate, and when I fell into mania again the next year (very seasonal), they had to put me on an antipsychotic.

I’m afraid people don’t understand that psychosis is not something I chose. People seem to think that if someone is insane, they have chosen it, in one way or another, at least. But I have only so much power to illuminate this to others. I am doing that now. But sometimes I still feel powerless.

The people who dropped me knew me. I had good friendships forming with them, some very good. But when my life fell apart, all they could see was my guilt. I had disrupted their friend group when I fell in (manic) love, and the ramifications were so great, they were only able to tacitly “forgive” me. This “forgiveness” did not involve welcoming me back, or continuing friendship. It did not involve talking to me. Or even meeting my eyes. I was nothing. But that was okay. I had already felt like nothing, back when I was depressed. Now people were just finally treating me like it.

I am still taking the lemons of these experiences and making lemonade out of them. I had been powerless to depression, and to mania, and in some ways I am powerless to change what people think of me, but when something is taken from you, you learn to get creative. You learn all the hard lessons. Mental illness is a horrible, terrible thing, but at least it teaches you things you never would have had to chance to realize otherwise.

I learned that my value is not dependent on what I feel. It does not depend on what other people think of me. Rather, it only rests on the power of the cross. It resides in the power of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And that power overflows my cup.



To donate to my time working with orphans in Romania, please click here! Thanks!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Romania I Know

I haven't been writing much about Romania, and the reason is mainly because I'm here in Raleigh and not there in Piatra Neamt, and I haven't been in Romania since 2008, so I didn't want to lean on my outdated knowledge of a complex country. I don't want to bring you blog posts navel-gazing about my calling to Romania, posts that revolve around me and my feelings and passion, so instead I've looked to scripture to bring you something more than myself. However, I realize it is time to share with you my love with a place that captured my heart when I first flew there ten years ago. I would be remiss not to.

I was fourteen. My parents had a rocky relationship and as an only child, I had no one who really understood my situation. Two days before I left for Romania, something extremely upsetting and confusing happened and that event clung to me like residue as I joined my fellow church people at the airport and got on the plane. I had two main forms of amusement: the novel Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson that I had to read for freshman English and the Christian "post hard-core" album On a Search in America by the band Dizmas. No one I was with seemed to even sense the turmoil I was in. My stomach was in knots. I read about Melinda's rape and listened to Zach Zegan screaming about riots and violence feeling like at least someone, somewhere around me felt the sickness that I was feeling in myself. Maybe that combination of factors was unhealthy but I honestly don't know what I would have done otherwise. I obviously couldn't say anything about it to the pastor's daughter I was sitting next to, who was reading a book of Christian romance stories. Not on a plane, either. I didn't sleep at all on that flight.

Flash-forward to when we arrive in Budapest (yes, Hungary). We are met by a man named Joe. Joe is the Hungarian dude who lives in Romania and is a part of Xtreme Missions, the in-country contact along with his new wife Dalma, who we would meet later on.

Joe walks us to the small bus which will take us from the airport to Arad, Romania. But first, he asks us a question.

"Would you like some Joes?"

Joe then disappeared inside the bus. "Does he mean coffee?" our pastor wondered. We were all completely perplexed as to what "Joes" were, especially considering that his name was Joe.

He returned from inside. In his hand was a purple bag with Joe written on the front. They were small wafer cookies.

Somehow this small interaction, our laughter, our realization that we were in a foreign country where a lot of things would not make sense to us at first, all this was just a taste of the belonging I would feel before the end of the trip.

Things weren't perfect. I still felt like I could tell no one what happened at my home on the Fourth of July, what I had found. I sobbed while taking my first awkward bath in the tub with the European nozzle thing, trying not to make any noise. I joined the pastor's daughter and our host family for a game of train afterwards. No one seemed to suspect anything.

In Romania, we did a lot of VBS. We went to church. We visited a home for developmentally disabled children. We ate a lot of lunches consisting of bread, salami, tomato and bell peppers. And somewhere in the midst of everything, I was finding both excitement and comfort, times of stress but also times of peace. I loved the ride in the van that inexplicably had koalas painted on it, the ride to the village we went to. Sunflowers and cornfields, as far as the eye could see. I didn't even mind the hour-long (or was it two hours?) prayer meeting we attended in church before the service. Each member of the large church prayed out loud, one by one, and even though I didn't understand the words I enjoyed the entire thing. I loved listening to Romanian. I learned a few phrases pretty easily, making me the "official linguist" of our group. I wasn't very outgoing. I was still very young. And my emotional state didn't do me any favors. But here I was.



Something, perhaps the only thing, that I had to offer while on this trip was my testimony. My story. When we practiced ours back in the States, I cried when I first shared mine. One of the girls complained that her testimony was as eventful as mine, and she wondered, what was she going to say? I pretended not to be completely vexed with when she said that in front of me. In Arad, I shared my story at first to just a few people, and then to a larger group, at an orphanage. Finally, I shared it at the large church mentioned above (by large I mean about 200 members...I guess it felt large to me). I was practiced by now, I was not afraid, and I didn't mess up once. My translator Anke was also now familiar with my story. As we went to sit down, something miraculous happened. The choir, and the church, were now going to sing a hymn. A psalm. And it was inspired by my testimony. When the church elder who was at the pulpit announced that the hymn was for me, he looked at me and smiled. I couldn't believe it. "Katie, they're playing this song for you," the youth pastor's wife said to me. Due to the excitement of the moment, I am not certain what psalm it exactly was, but I think it might have been Psalm 56. A psalm about overcoming adversity because of God's faithfulness. That moment meant so much to me. I felt like someone, at last, knew what to say to me.

We returned to California. But I was not the same. As I've mentioned before, I distinctly remember sitting in the back room of our house, feeling like this was not home. I had left home when I left Romania. That place was home. I felt homesick for a place I'd only been in for eight days. The people had been so different. I still remember the names of most of the youth we partnered with in Arad. Ella, Anke, Roluca aka "Tweety," Colin, Seba, and of course Dinu. They probably don't remember me, the little nerdy girl. The girl with a secret.

This is the Romania I know best. This trip and the next one, the one I took in 2008, are what I have right now. I hope that I will soon have much more. Not quite as weak, perhaps just as nerdy, but with an even greater testimony, I now am poised to rediscover Romania once more. It has been some years, so I know things in Romania are probably very different. I will be more in this east this time. And as I've said, I have changed. So I shall see what God will do with this. I'll have to find out what he will do this time, how he will test me, how he will pull me, how he will continue to change me. This is the Romania I know.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Finder and the Found

I went to Lifegroup tonight. Lifegroup is like a Bible study, and our group is going through the book of Luke as our church does the same. Tonight our focus was on the parable of the lost coin, which comes just before the parable of the prodigal son.

During the study, our leader made an observation that lingered in my mind, even as I drove home. His quandary was this: how much does God find us, and how much do we find God?

Perhaps too quick to chime in with my personal opinion, I commented after him that that question has actually been debated about by theologians for a long time and is a part of the whole conversation surrounding free will and Calvinism.

Maybe I should have saved my Bible college insight for another time, because I sort of felt like I ran over his point. The point being that, this is a difficult thing to wrestle with. Specifically, when I am far from God, and/or when I sin, how much does God come and get me and how much do I run to God, when I am reunited with him? The parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin are both clearly about someone, someone representing Christ, searching for and recovering the lost item, which represents us. However, the parable of the lost son is more complicated, because it is the son who "came to himself," or realized what had become of him, and he on his own volition went home to find his father. Yes, the father was waiting for his return with anticipation and unashamedly ran to him while he was still in the distance, but the son did walk there himself. He realized he needed his father, and his return was dependent on himself coming to his realization.

So which is it? Do we seek God, do we find God, or does he pick us up out of the mire? When we turn to God, how much of it is our will and how much of it is our Father's call?

Maybe a clue lies in another passage: "We love because he first loved us," 1 John 4:19. These questions cannot really be answered with a pat conclusion, but this verse illuminates the idea at least that the desire to do good, the desire to love, the desire to follow Jesus does not originate within us but within Yahweh. We could not turn to God if he did not call us first. We could not seek his face if he did not reveal it, did not offer us glimpses. We would never turn to Jesus if he never gave us a taste of his character, of his truth.

The crux of the application of this passage, for me, and for what I am called to do is this: how many glimpses of the Lord's goodness are we offering to those around us? Would they feel the void inside and draw closer to Jesus if all they had was what we offered? Are they able to seek? Do they know they are being sought? God is beginning the motion inside of you, but it is not meant to stay there. It is meant to swell and overflow out to those who can only seek if they realize there is something they are missing.

One last thought: this is all heady stuff, as my leader said tonight. These questions of seeking and being sought, of the finder and the found, really should be grappled with and meditated on and as I tried to say, cannot be made into a nice conclusion, maybe not even in this lifetime. But do meditate, and do wrestle with these parables and see what God wants to speak to you about them. The parable of the lost coin is only three verses but there is so much potential for Jesus to teach you and to heal you through them.

To donate to my time working with teenage orphans in Romania, please click here. It's going to be such a time of discovery, and it's getting so close! Departure date: July 22, 2016.