Monday, June 27, 2016

Hand on the Mountains

Right now, I am on a road trip with my dad from Raleigh, NC to Ontario, CA. I'm headed back home, or to what will be one of a few places that I consider home. I typically adore road trips. But it feels like somehow, a little of the wonder is gone. Some of the magic is missing.

I remember being a little kid on a trip with my parents in Pennsylvania. I spent hours staring at the never-ending forests we drove past, their darkness and promise of adventure. I loved the way the trees all spun past, their trunks appearing and disappearing, the way I could peer into the depths of the forest and see it from a thousand angles. We listened to a CD of acoustic guitar music, perfect for the trip. It's funny how I remember less of what we did when we stopped at our destinations than the traveling itself. There was something so fulfilling, so satisfying about gazing at the landscape.

I have experienced that same wonder and absorption on subsequent road trips. Sure, I'll read in the car, but looking out the window would prove just as worthwhile as entertaining myself otherwise. At least, it used to. Something about this road trip has left me feeling a little jaded. I'm no longer new to the landscape flying past me. We took this same route 11 months ago, when I was coming to Raleigh. But it's not that. The difference is, I'm older.

Well, you're probably thinking, that isn't much of a revelation. And it's not. The fact that I am 24 years old has a lot to do with where my mind is. But oh, how I long for childlike wonder. How I wish I could be astonished by the world outside my window. I don't think we ever need to outgrow appreciation for beauty, for meaning. I think God is with us at all stations of life.

I associate God with this phenomenon, with wonder at the beauty of the world so much that when I don't feel connected to my senses, I don't feel as connected to my God. I feel like I'm letting him down when I can't feel that je ne sais quoi, that ethereal sense of his hand on the mountains. What am I missing? What am I doing wrong?

If God could be "practiced" or "conjured," we would never have this problem, this issue of disengagement. We could make him appear to us whenever we wanted, which is why mustering all we have in worship or Bible study sometimes still doesn't cut it. It doesn't work that way! We think that practicing religion must a) lead us to be closer to God and b) make us better people. I have nothing against religion (for one, I think it is just a word with a lot of meanings) but if we think that doing x,y, and z will summon God, then we are putting too much faith not in our faith but in our ability.

Jesus comes. He comes when I am not expecting him, and I lay out all my questions to him. I show him my journey and ask why it isn't just like how it used to be. He comes so softly I am afraid he is going to leave again and I'll be stuck here searching for him. He doesn't always speak in words and he doesn't solve all my queries. But I know him when he lifts the veil off of my face and assures me that I don't need to have an outrageous experience of life all the time. He doesn't like the fear that grips me when I feel like I can't control enough things and so he reveals his presence that I might know what love can be, what trust should be.

I remember his presence and I want more and more of it but my consciousness of him comes in and out. When I do meet him again, it is not of myself. I open my eyes but it is he who does the miracle. He changes the trees from monotonous vegetation to applause. They're dancing and spinning for him. And then the moment is gone, but I know he will return. The wonder of YAHWEH hides itself, but it is always there.

I am no longer a child but I am a beloved daughter of the Most High. I am more jaded, perhaps, but I believe God can still work in me now. Maybe I am just restless with anticipation for Romania. Whatever my deal is, I pray that God will take you on your own journey, even as you pass through the desert. May he be your guide, and your destination.

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

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Every Knee Shall Bow

For those of us who are Christians, our hope is in Jesus. We hope in what Jesus has done, is doing and will do. We sing worship songs about how everyone will one day praise God. Indeed, in Philippians 2:10-11 it says that every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. We want Jesus to return. But there is something stirring in my heart, something making my mind uneasy as I sing lyrics about how everyone will one day know that Jesus is King.

It is just as we declare. One day, everyone will know the truth. But it will be too late.

Not too late for us, of course. We know Jesus, and we are eagerly expecting him. Some of us even feel his return is imminent, in our lifetime for sure, if not next week. No one can prove anything to the contrary...well, except the fact that not every people group has heard the gospel. About that...

What if we're missing the point? I'm sure Jesus wants us to expect him. But that means we are to live our lives accordingly. And that means more than righteous living. Surprise!

I don't rejoice that Muslims, Jews, atheists, nominal Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus, and all other nonbelievers will be proven wrong. No. That's not what we are waiting for. Everyone will bow. But many will be cast into the lake of fire. That is what catches my heart, what makes me pause when I sing about Jesus receiving the honor he is due. I give him that honor. But I know it leaves me with a responsibility.

Evangelism. Witnessing. Sharing the good news about Jesus. It's a lifestyle. It's what Jesus did. How did he do it? He hung out with the wrong crowd. Seriously! With greedy, cheating tax collectors, seductively dressed prostitutes, foul-mouthed sinners who did God-knows-what. That was his ministry. Jesus' life looked more like that of a pastor at an inner city church than a televangelist. Clean, shiny televangelism. Jesus was a strange combination of honest grit and compassion. He had little time for the Pharisees, who had their religion down to a science.

Jesus is so great, we would be foolish not to talk about him. If we don't know how to talk about Jesus, there is something terribly wrong with our version of Christianity. I think the problem might be this: we don't surround ourselves with nonbelievers. And if we are surrounded, we are so uncomfortable we can't verbalize our faith to any degree without sounding forced. Why can't we hang out with non-Christians? Have we lost touch with our humanness? Have we become too lofty? Does the end of the story only matter to us when we are worshiping, and not when we are with our unbelieving friends?

If you have friends outside of your Christian bubble, I commend you. That is really the first step. Now, I've done mall evangelism. It's scary but also actually really fun. But that is not really the most effective means of sharing the gospel. If you can have a cup of coffee and talk about the Bible, or Jesus, or your testimony with someone who doesn't believe, someone who was your friend first, then that is where it's at. You don't even have to go crazy like Jesus and host huge dinner parties with sinners. You can start with one fellow sinner. It's fun!

Maybe you are worried. Maybe you don't want to look like a hypocrite. But let me ask you, what is a hypocrite? I don't think a hypocrite is someone who hangs out with sinners. Granted, if you are being tempted, if you have a weakness, then maybe you should wait before putting yourself among people with different morals (although many nonbelievers do have very high morals. Try making a Muslim friend, or a Sikh!). But really, acting like Jesus and loving people who are lost is not hypocrisy. It's what Jesus commanded. To know what hypocrisy really is, maybe we should turn our attention back to the Pharisees. Legalistic, exclusionary, conniving, prideful people. They never hung around sinners. They never ate with sinners. They never witnessed to sinners.

What do we look like? Are we reading the entire chapter of second Philippians? Do we not catch verse three, which says, "...in humility count others more significant than yourselves," ? If you go to Bible studies, read the Bible on your own, go to church, and pray, how much more should you be investing in the potential faith of those around you? I am flying halfway around the world. But you don't have to do that. You can just speak up at work. Be authentic. Ask your neighbor (do you talk to them?) over for a cup of coffee. Show that you have a faith all your own. Do life with people. Talk about Jesus. Say his name the way you feel it. The way you even just think about Jesus can speak volumes. Let people see what he means to you. Christianity isn't a science. It's life.

There are so many people who will never know Jesus. I mourn that. I will mourn if my friends who don't believe never believe. But that doesn't stop me from trying. I don't always witness. But when I do...it brings me closer to that friend. Cool, huh?

If you'd like to support my time working with orphans in Romania, please click here!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Transient

The days are winding down, and my time in Raleigh, North Carolina is drawing to a close. I have dealt with the goodbyes I have been, and will be, giving out with a mixture of grief, distraction and patience. Somehow all three of those phenomena are exhibiting themselves as I come to terms that there are many people I will never see again. Some I will keep in contact with, more or less. But there is going to be continuing realization that things are not going to be the same.

Truth is, very few of our relationships stand the test of time. It happens in all of our lives. We grow up, graduate, change jobs, move away, lose contact. There are plenty of people who have come into our lives only to wander out. Or we do the wandering. Sometimes these losses are very painful. Sometimes we don't notice them at all. It's a part of living, of being human.

I'm not sure if Facebook alleviates or exacerbates this situation. Every day, we have hundreds of people right in front of us on the screen. And it's impossible to speak to all of them regularly. We probably wouldn't want to do so, anyway. But there it is, an assortment of people who we could see as old friends, or as failed friendships. It depends on us just how we see it.

A theme of my life has been this: how can I appreciate all that has happened in my life properly? As in, how do I treat the good and the bad? Where is the happy place, the place where I am neither obsessing nor forgetting, neither hating nor sugar-coating? Sometimes, being a day-dreamer since childhood, I find myself drawn back to a certain immersive time in my life, lingering on the details, exactly how something was said, what they meant, what my reaction was, etc. Meanwhile, I ought to be engaging in the task before me, or at least attempting to dwell in the present, instead of on what happened three years ago. It can be completely addicting. The more I do it, the harder it is to stop. Usually I need to have a conversation about it to express it. Describing it in writing helps, as well.

People are like treasures. I want to keep all the prettiest ones forever. I want to possess all the nuances of how they speak, the things they told me, how they laugh. But possession does not free us. God did not place us on earth to amass items, people, feelings, memories or anything. The beauty of living is lost when we cling to anything other than God. God is ours, it is true. But still, we cannot even say we possess him. I don't want to contain God. I don't want to pretend like I completely understand him, like I've got him down pat. Like I can manipulate him. Like I am the one in control.

I am trying every day to live life with open hands. Creating, inventing, sharing, writing, taking pictures all help to fill that ache in me to somehow reveal the beautiful experiences, the beautiful people who have come into my life. I believe God gives us these ways to give back, rather than hoard. And it becomes enough. The little friendships, the ones left behind, the temporary relationships are, after all, transient. These transient friendships can be fulfilling. It would be foolish for us to pretend that only our long-term relationships are the ones that matter. Because there are so many other ones we would be remiss to just write off.

The balance comes when we approach God with this phenomenon, the phenomenon of transience. It may look like a mess. It may be indecipherable to you. You may not be sure what to take and what to leave. But I believe that transience is not only a fact of life, but a joy of it. And I believe that God will show you how to neither obsess nor forget, but how to value and learn to grow from these experiences.

Maybe you already know all of this. You may do all this without giving it so many words. I hope I'm not the only one who looks back over my shoulder while I step into new territory. I wouldn't want to go it alone.

To donate to my time in Romania, please click here.