Friday, December 28, 2012

Les Misérables Moves

On my own, pretending he's beside me...

My latest experience with Les Miserables hasn't fully wiped away all my previous ones, but it's certainly helped erase the reminiscent sounds and screeches of my musical theatre classmates from high school as they attempted to mimic the great classics that should never be performed by non-professionals. In fact, Les Mis seemed to be a musical of choice as classmate after classmate got up to sing yet another rendition of On my Own, Bring Him Home, or I Dreamed a Dream. Sometimes it felt like torture.

I saw the movie yesterday and while there are critiques to be made and I was slightly disappointed with the inability to be completely encompassed in the sound as I had been in the Broadway production of the musical, I felt like I was able to follow the plot better than ever before.

I sat in the theatre and was immediately inspired by a beautiful story of redemption and true change. It's a show that immediately engages your heart as you are constantly immersed in the inner thoughts and struggles of each character. And I couldn't help but think, 'Why can't I always feel like this? Why doesn't love always feel like this? Why doesn't life feel like this?' This intense heartache coupled with the greater joy that accompanies love and romance.

I remember applying to grad schools a few years back to get my Master's in Counseling. As I interviewed with one, I remember talking to a few of the current students about the program, discussing both the pros and the cons. I'll never forget one conversation I had with one of the girls. She told me that in this program she had uncovered more pain and heartache than she ever thought possible...but with that was a greater joy and love that was deeper than anything she'd ever known. I wanted to know that. I wanted to dig through the sludge and the muck, and while there might be great tragedy to process through, there might also be great triumph.

Les Mis kind of brought this to life for me. Knowing great joy in the midst of so much pain. In the midst of despair, poverty, destitution, death...there was still something to hope for, something to dream of, something (or someone) to love. And as we go about our daily, often mundane lives, I wonder how we become people who are passionately living through both the joys and destruction in our lives. In the face of tragedy, how do we become people who are willing to go to the depths of the pain so that we might know the greater joy?

Or are we people who run from it, avoid it, pretend it simply doesn't exist? When we experience loss, or heartache, or devastating news... are we willing to wade through the hurt in hopes that we might discover something better? Are we willing to confront our worst enemies (which may very well lie within us) in order to find victory and redemption as we choose better? And are we willing extend this same hope to others around offer them a second chance?

Can we be like the priest who offers Jean Valjean both hope and freedom in a single gesture as he gives a thief another of the silver that was already stolen? Can we be like Valjean who faces his inner darkness and chooses to love despite his inclination to hate? Can we search for ways to, in a moment, be people who extend grace and forgiveness instead of only offering judgment and penalties for breaking the law?

Can we be people who watch movies like Les Mis and allow them to move us toward action...whether it's internal or external? Can we be a people who might believe that the Lord can use any medium in which to call His people into something greater and deeper, into a place where we come out loving Him and His people more abundantly than ever before? A place where we are reminded of the grace and redemption we've experienced in our own lives as Jesus Christ paid the penalty for all of our sins and transgressions...a place where we desperately long for others to know the fullness of both the depravity and hope we wrestle with as we receive such a sacrifice and embrace the joy of what it means for our lives.

These are the things I think about when I watch Les Miserables (and thousands of other movies/tv shows, actually). What do you think about?

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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Coming Home

Coming home is always weird.

Perhaps you can relate to these sentiments as you drive down old streets, run into past classmates, hang out with your high school friends, and revisit the memories of your former self. Unfortunately, the feelings that accompany such sentiments aren't always the warm fuzzy ones of nostalgia. In fact, I used to hate coming home.

I hated it because I didn't always like who I had been...and coming home reminded me of that person's existence. I'd rather forget that person had ever been a part of me.

There's been something strangely refreshing about coming home this time around, though. It didn't hit me until Christmas Eve service, where my family returned to the church I had grown up in. We stopped attending that particular church when I was about thirteen, so it had been a while since I had been back. My brother, sister-in-law and I gave ourselves a tour prior to the service beginning. In the process of creeping through the dark hallways and empty rooms, there was an unlocking of several memories for me.

see.. who IS that little blonde-haired girl, anyway?
I was barely engaged in the actual service, as I looked around at many faces that I hadn't seen in over a decade. These people knew me as a small, blonde-haired little girl. These were the people that would say things like, 'I didn't even recognize you...', and, now that I'm older, I can actually appreciate the comments. How many times in my own life have I gasped in disbelief at how old someone now is?

I realized that this church held pieces of me. It held memories for me. And as we wandered around, it was as though these vague memories in my mind were slowly becoming realities once again. It wasn't just how I imagined it was... it was actually how it was. It was a delight! It was affirmation that these things happened, that they were real, that they played a valuable role in who I am today.

The same feelings have washed over me as I've reminisced with old friends and also my family. Beyond the catching each other up to speed on what our lives currently look like, there's always moments of remembering the past. These memories, through these friendships, are affirmed as real... and I love that. I love that shared experiences can bring us back into moments that we begin to think we only made up in our minds. I love that while the details can be fuzzy, through the 'Wait! Didn't it happen like this....' and the 'I thought that he said this...' we are slowly able to paint a picture of how it all actually played out.

And while I don't always love who I was during my childhood, adolescent and teenage years (or early twenties or even late twenties...)..I think there's something beautiful to acknowledging that each of those things have played a part in making me who I am today. They're a part of my story. It's a story that I don't want to forget simply because I'm scared of looking at the harsh realities of who I once was. More than ever, I find myself wanting to open the doors of my past, wanting to revisit the good, the bad, the ugly... and allow for the truth of how I've changed to be most prevalent. The truth of how the gospel has transformed, redeemed, and saved me.

I don't want to run from my past.
I don't want to run from who I was.
I don't want to lock away all the bad things I've ever done or been and pretend like they don't exist. I think it's good for us to be aware of those things, to even be reminded of those things... and to live in the fullness of the changed people that we are.

Coming home is weird.
But weird doesn't have to be bad.

If you're anything like me, I hope that coming home can be met with positivity instead of negativity (as mine has typically been in the past). I hope you're able to embrace the fullness of who you are, acknowledging that all events of your past have brought you to this place. They aren't the things that define you, but they are things that are part of you. The Lord has used it all and is intrinsically weaving it all together to make everything beautiful in its time.

There's much to hope in. Much to be excited about. No matter where you come from, what you've done, who you've been....

Don't run from it. Don't hide it. Don't be ashamed of it.
Let the fullness of your story radiate, as you let the reason for your hope and redemption shine through the darkest parts of your past.

Somewhere, somehow, in some way...
Jesus makes it okay.

I hope we can be a people who truly believe that.

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Friday, December 21, 2012

I met someone

I don't know if it's jet lag, but I woke up at 4 a.m. and was quite alert.

...and processing...processing...processing.

It's the state of my heart these days: constant turmoil as I sort through the events of the past weeks, months and even years.

I met someone new.
Someone who is kind, good, passionate, selfless, thoughtful, faithful, and determined.... and he likes me. He made his intentions clear without me ever having to wonder, without me ever having to consider taking the initiative myself. I'm not sure if I've ever really known what that could be like.

The prospect of someone new in the midst of so many somethings new has created quite a lot of uncertainty in my heart. And, most challenging, the hurts and wounds of my past have immediately resurfaced and created a barrier between my ragged heart and a man who longs to know it.

For so long I've convinced myself that I didn't deserve quite a lot of things...especially when it came to love and romance. I convinced myself that what I thought I needed weren't actually the things that I needed, and that the Lord was even teaching me much through the absence of those things. And, I imagine He was...but recently I've realized that it might not be what He desired for me.

Gentle whispers intimately guide their way through the slammed doors of my heart, forcing me to hear the words that flow from One who knows me better than I know myself: this is how it should be. 

This is tricky for me to accept, because, if you know me at all, I've set myself up as a basher of 'shoulds'. The 'shoulds' create expectations, the 'shoulds' create disappointment.

But there's a man who waits patiently for me to rummage through my baggage as I decide if I might ever be able to trust again. A man who gently reminds me that I matter, that I'm beautiful, that I'm worth it. A man who pursues, who sacrifices, who honors his word. A man who loves the Lord wholeheartedly and lets that define the ways in which he walks. A man who is not perfect, who is not what I expected, who may not even be who I end up with.

He's a man who reminds me that this is, indeed, how it should be.
And that, maybe, 'shoulds' are okay sometimes.

Ladies, I need you to hear me in this...
That while, yes, men are also broken vessels... there are good men that exist. Men who long to know you, long to be faithful to you, long to be the things you think you need in a relationship. There are men who are willing to do whatever it takes to be near you, men who believe in you, men who genuinely think you matter. Men who are kind, patient, and fully encourage you to embrace the fullness of who God has created you to be. Men who may not be perfect in any of these things, but men who are still striving because of the way Jesus has truly transformed their hearts.

These are the types of men we should all be waiting for. Because I honestly think that this is how it should be. Not just for me... but for you, too.

Because when we are wooed by men who give us the freedom to be ourselves, who give us the freedom to be honest and open without the fear of what they might think or how they might unleashes something good within. It allows us to trust, to hope, to feel comfortable and excited about who we are.

And, no, men aren't necessary in making this happen...but I think that they can be a beautiful catalyst that cause us to truly embrace ourselves. Too often we find ourselves in the midst of relationships that never allow this to happen. We're too focused on how we need to be different in some way, and we become consumed with believing lies about ourselves and never feeling good enough. As a result, it becomes what we offer to those around us. It's a viscous cycle of being hurt and hurting others as we desperately desire for someone to simply tell us that we are enough, even in our darkest moments.

No human can ever complete this within us, no matter how great they are... but, I do believe the Lord uses others to speak this truth into us. And, I do believe that the enemy can use others to speak quite the opposite into us as well. For those closest relationships to us, I think it's vital to surround ourselves with people who speak life into us and constantly point us to truth.

Don't settle.
Because, yes, I think there is such a thing now.
Wait patiently.
Believe that there are good men and that they are worth waiting for...even if it means that means letting go of the plans you had for your life. Even it it means being 22 or 28 or 35 or 65 and single.

I may not even end up dating this new man due to other variables...but the Lord has already used him to show me that there is a way that it should be and it's quite all right to hold out for that.

I hope you'll do the same.
You're worth it.
And, if you don't hear it from me?
I pray that Jesus would whisper that truth through the closed doors of your heart as well.

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Your entries will remain anonymous

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Is Africa my Nineveh?

I didn't really want to come back.

Being away from everything was good for my soul. It's like Africa provided this barrier that had been placed between myself and all previous expectations on my life. It provided the haven of a break. A true break. A much needed break. No one could expect much of me because I was out of the country... I was unreachable... I was gone. 

Sometimes it's nice to be gone. 
To be in the midst of a situation where the expectations for you are simple. I knew what I needed to do in Africa. 

But when I looked at coming back, a huge monstrosity of confusion clouded my vision. Maybe it was more just the overwhelming realization that upon my return to America, a new life for me would inevitably unfold. As much as I've been thinking, planning, and praying for what would be next in my journey come January...there was always the buffer of time on my side. Nothing ever feels real when it hasn't happened yet, when there's still months and weeks left to meander through. 

Coming home meant a new life was literally right around the corner, and I didn't feel sure about that new life. The question that I've been successfully avoiding was now at the surface of every thought accompanied with my future: is this really what I should be doing? 

It's a question that stems from fear. 
Because, the truth is, I don't actually know. And I hate not knowing. 

So, naturally, while in Africa one must entertain the notion of what it could look like to spontaneously drop everything and move across the world to love orphans who are clearly in need. That is undeniably important. But is that what I should be doing? 

I don't know. 
A part of me would love nothing more. And in the midst of my uncertainty about my current future plans, this romantic/dramatic part of me would love to sell everything I have, move overseas, and establish myself as a woman who will be there to love and care for those kids no matter what... to be someone of stability in their life. 

On our trip we had devotions each morning led by various team members. One particular morning, Erin led us in a discussion about Jonah. It was complete with the Jesus Storybook Bible (which might be one of the better books around, if you've never read it...). Naturally, it brings up this inner conflict as you sort through the Ninevehs in your own life. Or, at least it did for me. 

Is Africa my Nineveh?
Is God calling me to go to Africa, to preach the good news there, to live a life of love there... and I'm rejecting the call? 

Honestly, I still don't know. 
So this is where I've left it... 

I'm going to graduate school in a few weeks near Boston. And while I don't know that this is what I'm supposed to be doing...I'm walking in faith that it's still good. I'm walking in faith that if this is not the path I'm meant to be on, that the Lord will make it clear to me. I'm walking in faith that if the Lord truly wants me in Africa, that it will be a decision that I feel confident in. Because, like Jonah, God didn't release him of the call even when he didn't initially follow through. I feel like God will be faithful in that to me. 

I struggle with discernment. I struggle with knowing what the Lord would have me do versus only doing what I would have me do. I know I'm not alone in this struggle. So, in that? I think this is the best I can do. 

Often I'm walking blindly, often I'm walking into the unknown, often I'm simply unsure. But, no matter where I go, I pray the Lord find me faithful... I pray He find me obedient in loving Him and His people. So regardless of if I'm in Africa, or Boston, or somewhere else in the world, I think I'm okay as long as I'm seeking to know Him. 

And when and if my Nineveh ever comes? I pray that the Lord would find me faithful in going, in sharing, in loving... no matter the cost. 

But for now I'm simply too unsure to make drastic life alterations. For now, I know I'm still walking into something good and maybe necessary before I move onto another season of intense ministry. 

And for now? I'm back. Fully immersed in the previous expectations that I had received a small break from... and it's good and they matter. You matter. 

Instead of us being people who flounder around in the uncertainty of where God would have us go, I pray that we would be people who walk assuredly toward becoming the people He has called us to be, trusting that He will move us in and out of various places along the way. I wonder if our journey is much more about who we are becoming over the places we are going and somehow we get caught up in the thinking the latter defines the former. Perhaps it's the other way around. 

May we be a people who focus on loving God, knowing God.... and letting that define how we serve God. 

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Let the Children Come

'I love you Kani.' 

My whispers echo in my memory, and I wonder if she ever understood the words that flowed from my lips. I held this beautiful, 5-year-old girl in my arms, stared into her massive brown eyes and tried to convey the depths to which my heart yearned for her to know happiness, to know hope, to know love, to know Jesus.

Three little words and after excessive amounts of repeating them to her, I was soon aware that these weren't the three words she needed to hear. I was leaving her. I couldn't save her.

'Kani... Jesus loves you. He loves YOU...' 

She stared back at me. And I prayed that if she remembered anything from my short time with her, that those would be the words etched upon her heart... that Jesus' name would be the one that prevailed and mine would be forgotten. As much as it brought joy to hear the quiet voice slowly attempt to sound out my foreign name, my name isn't the one that saves.

I went to Africa with few expectations...mostly just assured that I would be uncomfortable.
I went to Africa, and I, quite unexpectedly, fell in love.

I don't know if I fully knew how engaged my heart was in the lives of these children until a little over a week into trip. We were saying goodbye, and sweet Kani didn't understand that we would see her a few days later. All she could grasp is that we were leaving, and as I watched her eyes well up with tears and her normally smiling face transform into sadness and fear...I had no control of the emotion that seized me in those seconds. Rationally I knew I would see them all again, but inconsolable tears streamed from my own eyes that day, as I looked at these beautiful children who had no family to go home to.

We rode on the back of motorcycles to where we were staying that night, and in the safety of the dark, I let myself cry for these children. For while I didn't know each of their unique stories, I knew that their lives had been defined by loss, by abandonment, by loneliness, by illness, by hunger, by death. And, in that moment, I wanted to run away. It was too was too hard. It was too overwhelming to think about the extent of their needs, the extent of their loss, the extent of their brokenness. But, simultaneously, I was aware of how much I loved them, how much they mattered, and how, despite the pain, there was still hope. And that makes it worth it.

Kani was the catalyst that opened my heart to what the Holy Spirit was doing in me...but it didn't stop with her. There was 12-year-old Brenda, whose stoic stares eventually became shy smiles as she informed us of her desire to be a judge or a lawyer some day. There was 3-year-old Elisa, whose self-reliant behavior of dressing herself and shutting others out eventually melted into a little girl just wanting to be played with and held by a father (and clung to a father, she did). There was 17-year-old Halima, who often cared for the younger children in addition to the daily duties required of her, but was inspiring in her willingness to ask hard questions about God and faith. There was 11-year-old Cathrine, who quietly confessed that she'd much rather laugh and play than go back into a world where she was hauling water, doing laundry by hand, cooking and cleaning. She was the same girl who grabbed my hand, rubbed my arm and insisted that my white skin was more desirable than her brown skin. No matter how many times I reminded her of her beauty, she shook her head in disbelief. There was Juan, and Tony, and Noel, and Sekwat, and Morris, and Patine, and Victoria, and Peter, and Faith, and Grace, and Jessie, and Patu, and Jackie, and... and... and...
Brenda, Cathrine, Noel

I love them.
Within minutes of meeting them, I loved them.

It's a terrifying thing to admit, and I'm still processing through what that means for my life. Because, don't get me wrong... Africa is certainly uncomfortable. I'm thankful for my hot shower last night, with running water. I'm thankful for privacy. I'm thankful for a toilet with reliable plumbing...instead of a hole to squat over that's often filled with roaches in the middle of the night. I'm thankful for a bathroom that's inside of a house. I'm thankful for Mexican food and for a variety of food. I'm thankful for being able to sleep without a mosquito net. I'm thankful for orderly traffic laws. I'm thankful for mirrors. I'm thankful for being able to wash my hands and actually feel like they are clean. I'm thankful for washing machines.

But, despite the discomforts and despite the hardships of life in Uganda...I feel like I walked away more entranced by the beauty of it all. The beauty in the broken. The beauty in the simplicity. The beauty in the people. The beauty in what Jesus is doing in that place. The beauty in the hope that they have in Him.

Juan and Kani
And I think that's why I could leave without shedding more tears. Because Jesus is taking care of His people, He is tending to His flock. I can trust Him to do that. It may sometimes look different in Uganda than it does here in America...but God is still God. He still saves. He still heals. He still brings hope to the hopeless. He still beckons the little children to come to Him... and there they are safe in His arms. He still moves in the hearts of people, inviting them to care for the widows and the orphans.

So while these children may not have an earthly mother or father, they have people that care deeply for them...people who have sacrificed much so they have a place to sleep, food to eat, clothing to wear. People in Africa and people in America. People who point them toward truth.

But there are more children. More children who are living on streets, selling themselves into prostitution, getting high off the metal pieces in the money that they are sometimes given. More children whose parents are dying of HIV, or killed in war, or overdosing on drugs. More children who don't have hope, who don't have a future, who only know loss and despair.

What do we do for these children?
And what do we do for the children in America whose stories might seem significantly different, but are really quite the same...when they are left abandoned, abused, and hopeless?

While I don't know right now what my future looks like with Africa... I cannot deny a call upon my life to respond to the (sometimes silent) pleas of the orphaned children of the world. To offer them the hope, love and redemption that can only be found in Jesus Christ.

A week ago, I decided to sponsor a little boy named Sseviri Asadi Peter in Kampala, Uganda. Two days ago, I got to walk through a zoo with him clutching onto my hand. I can't begin to describe how sweet it is to know this little boy who I hope to be helping for a long while. I'm more adamant about sponsorship now, especially in seeing the impact that it has on these children's lives. To see the joy when they receive gifts or letters... to see the hope they get when someone they don't even know is willing to give of their resources so they can have a future.

These kids matter.
They are worth it.
They are worth your time, your energy, your money, your prayers, your love.

The needs are too vast for me to do much on my own, but I pray that we would be a people who, like Jesus, let the children come to us... no matter how busy we are, no matter how annoying they seem, no matter how dirty they appear, no matter the cost. That we would be a people who offer hope to the hopeless because of the hope we have found in Christ.

Our stories cannot remain about us.
I'd encourage you to check into sponsorship--find a ministry/organization that is all about holistic care, tending to both the spiritual and physical needs of the children (Lahash International, whom I traveled with, is one I'd recommend). I'd also encourage you married folk to check into foster care or adoption.

Let's find ways to truly let the children come to us, and to speak boldly of the hope we have in Jesus Christ, praying that the truth would penetrate the hearts of everyone we encounter.

May we be a people who leave the whispered truth to children all over world that Jesus loves them...and may the truth of the gospel be the thing that lingers when all else fades away.