Straining

A prayer.

Here are words I have often penned in my prayer journal.
I share it, because I think maybe someone needs to read it.
Perhaps so, perhaps not. But if you are the one who needs it, know this:

He is here, He is with you, and He loves you.

 

Oh God I believe, help my unbelief.

God, I want to grow. I’m stubbornly reading and writing and yearning and talking and thinking and trying to will and work myself into feeling your presence again. I want to see my growth. I want it to be measurable and clear, so I can feel content in your presence.

But. You don’t work like that, do you?

You urge us to strain and seek the gentle whisper. You don’t promise the mountain time and time again, you just promise your presence; you don’t promise we can even feel you, but you promise you are there. And you don’t want us to be content where we are in relationship to you, you want us to be ever straining towards you.

You ask us, speak gently to us in whispers we often miss, to seek you in the moments when the mountain is far away, and the very memories of it feel old and faded. Oh God, in the valleys and trenches does your work in us become real. In the times of trial, and in the times of nothing. You are there, you are working, you are real.

Lord, I cling to you. Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling.

In the wilderness, I cling to you.
On the mountain, I cling to you.
In the valley, I cling to you.
When I can feel you, and when I cannot, I cling to you.

For you are good, you are real, and you are always right beside me, even when I don’t even notice. Thank you God, for who you are, and for your patience with box-checking, perfection seeking, progress-oriented me.

Amen.

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Watch Your Toes

Watch your toes, I’m about to step on them. I’m tired of living in a mental state that is comfortable. I am tired of being content to dream about what I can do someday, yet waiting to act. This world is a wreck, it needs Jesus, and it needs all of us to stop sitting on our hands and do something about it. This is for me as much as it is for all of you.

The early church was characterized by love. While it had its own issues, the love, acceptance, and generosity, that the church exhibited caused it to explode. This love and care was so evident that it confused and distressed the supremacist, polytheistic, and hedonistic Roman society**. Phrases like, “love the sinner, hate the sin” were acted upon, not just shouted. Where has that love gone? Where has the care gone? There are some churches and churchgoers who are actively involved in the work of Christ in this world, but there are many more sitting and pointing fingers. “If only [group of people] did _______ first, then I’d be willing to help,” or, “they should clean up ____, _____, and ____ before they expect help,” or “it’s their own faults that they are going through ______.” You’ve heard the words, you can fill in the blanks. It’s not an abnormal conversation or occurrence.

Seriously?

Jesus did not act like that. Jesus taught us to love. He did not ask people to clean their messes before they followed Him, He invited them to listen, met them where they were standing, and loved them anyway. He challenged them to change their lives, but His love was not contingent on their behavior. We have a tendency to want Jesus’ love for others to be contingent on other people’s actions, but we want free grace for ourselves. We love to quote the verse “take the plank out of your own eye before removing the speck in the eye of your neighbor” … to everyone except ourselves. Is there any wonder that the world considers the church hypocritical and backwards? Perhaps if we started living like Jesus did, that would change.

Perhaps instead of pointing fingers and throwing the Bible at people, we should read it first. Maybe we should read verses like 1 Corinthians 5:12 which states, “What business is it of mine [Paul] to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?” Church discipline and correction should happen, but they should happen within the church to people who claim to follow God but who’s actions say otherwise. That is where we should humbly judge, but not outside the walls of the church where people do not even know the name of Jesus, let alone His commandments.

I’m not saying condone sin, I’m not saying focus so much on love at risk of throwing out the law, and I’m not propagating some sort of new radical thinking. I’m asking, pleading, for you and for me to love better. Instead of using the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin” let’s just do it. Instead of bringing attention to the good or the bad, let’s just dig into the trenches of Christian life in a broken world. Instead of standing on either sides of life’s battlefield, shouting, screaming, pointing fingers and hurting people, let’s work together. Christ called us to love ALL people–the easy ones to love, and especially the hard ones.

Love your neighbors, your co-workers, your teachers. Love people who look like you, and those who don’t. Love people who think like you, and those who don’t. Love the people in on your street, or the ones who live in the streets. Love the people celebrating the Supreme Court ruling, love the people rioting. Just love, pray, repeat.

After all, Jesus said, ” A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:33-35). I want to be recognizable as a follower of Christ by the way I love other people. 

So if I stepped on your toes, I’m not sorry. The gospel was never meant to be comfortable; Jesus calls us to sacrifice and death–not ease. The world is falling apart around our ears, and it’s time for the church to once again be characterized by love and care.

** Footnote: To learn more about the Church in Rome and other awesome early Church history, check out Gerald L. Sittser’s Water from a Deep Well.

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It’s Not Easy.

Nothing worthwhile is ever easy. Whether we understand or not (and at least for me it is mostly not), sometimes God calls us to do what is hard. He calls us to love people who are not easy to love. He tells us to spread encouragement where only negativity is thriving. He asks us to lay down our lives for people who do not even care. This is so counter-cultural and counter-intuitive, but it is what He did for us. We did not, do not, and will not ever deserve His love, yet He gives it so freely.

So life is hard, and the meaningful things, the worthwhile things, are always the hardest. God never promised ease–in fact He promised the opposite. Praise to Him, however, because we do not walk this rocky road alone. In all we do, we have Christ with us. He walks beside us, holds our hand, pushes us when we need a boost, and pulls us along when we’re dead on our feet. All He asks is that we keep looking to Him and following Him–that’s the only requirement.

I write this to remind myself, as well as anyone else who needs it, that He is in control. In the worst and hardest of experiences, He is always present.

So let’s not try to find the easy route, because nothing worthwhile is ever easy. Instead, let us trudge this hard road hand in hand, together and with Jesus.

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Life Here.

I have begun to realize that intentional living in the Kingdom of God here on earth means living with holes in my heart. There are holes for the lost in the world; there are holes for the brokenness and injustice happening to Christians and non-Christians alike; there are holes for people I probably do not get to see again on this side of eternity. So many holes.

Several years ago I was challenged in a sermon to live with a “low grade fever of sadness” for the world. My youth pastor talked about how, when sick with a low fever, you can function and go about life, but with a little bit of pain and inconvenience for that fever. In contrast, a high fever renders you incapable of pretty much anything. His challenge, then, was to live this way in the world. Know the pain in the world, and let it bother you, but do not let it overwhelm you.

This year has been a constant reminder of this challenge and the holes in my heart. I miss those I had the opportunity to meet and serve with in Japan, my heart breaks for people around the world suffering persecution, I ache for those who walk on campuses full of people yet feel completely alone. My heart hurts, and I am beginning to realize that that is the way I am called to live. I must not be overwhelmed, yet I also cannot become cynical and calloused.

Jesus never told us this would be easy. In fact, He reminded us that the road is hard and long and few find it. Nonetheless, these holes in my heart remind me of the need to share the love of Christ in what I say and do. It cannot be just about missions; it cannot be just about devotions or church or specified ministry–I must let the love and grace of the gospel flow out of me as I do anything.

These holes are hard, but they are not mine to bear alone. For now I have the Great Physician to bind up my wounds daily, and someday He will take His hands, scarred with holes of their own, and heal my holes, your holes, and the source of them in this world. Until that day, though, the low grade fever rages on.

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Newsflash

Newsflash to American Christians (including myself) LIFE IS NOT ABOUT YOU.

Christianity is not about us.
The Bible was not written just for this generation.
Our faith is not about us.
Mission work is not about us.
God was not made for us, we were made for Him.

It is so easy to make Christianity about us. One of our favorite questions to ask of the Bible is, “Ok so what does this mean to ME?” Really?! God’s letter to the world throughout history, and we’re trying to put it in the context of our little lives? God absolutely reveals truth to us through His word, but it is about so much more than us. He speaks truth to all of His children through His word; we ought to read with open hearts and look for truth and apply that truth to our lives rather than look for things that “fit us” and then call our observations truth. Don’t get me wrong–I’m speaking from the crowd not the pulpit. I struggle with this too. For so many years I saw my friends with their “perfect faiths” and felt as though I was missing something major. I didn’t have a crazy God moment every day–what was I doing wrong? It took me a while to figure out that I was asking the wrong question. I wanted God to show me x, y, and z so I could talk about it; I wanted to feel good and look good. God was supposed to make my life easy right? I was supposed to feel Him at every moment right? I mean-that is what American Christian culture was telling me right?

Wrong.

My faith became a huge idol in my life–I know, rather counter-intuitive. I worried so much about growing in God for my sake and for the sake of telling those around me that I failed to actually look and listen for His voice. I don’t think I am alone in this struggle. The American church has been so influenced by American ideals that they creep into how we live as Christians. Maybe our theology and doctrines are correct, but the way we put them into practice is often quite off-kilter.

We expect daily doses of the mountain, yet God calls us to pursue Him in the valley where He is harder to see. It is not about us–it is not about our experience, but it is about His glory.

It is not about us. So not about us. God created us for His glory, and so every piece of who we are ought to be about showing people who He is. Our faith isn’t about knowing all the Bible stories, answering everyone’s questions, or having the most God-filled experiences. It is about becoming more and more in-tune with His heart. Don’t get me wrong–stories, answers, God-moments are AMAZING (I mean, I did blog about Japan 20 times….) But our purpose in sharing is not to point to our holiness, but to His power in our weakness. He wants us to stand out not to bring attention to ourselves, but to point to Him.

So as I grow and learn, I strive to make sure my faith is not about me. This blog post is as much a reminder to me as it is a challenge and reminder to all of you. In our spiritual journeys, let us shy away from what WE did or what WE learned and talk about where God moved and how He taught. The story might be the same, but the focus is different.

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Back to the Drawing Board

My mom has told me I need to blog again, twice; I really want to blog again, but at the present moment my brain is still so wrapped up in Japan that I cannot think about what to write. For 19 blog posts, all I had to do was report on the day or week at hand. I have a list of topics that I brainstormed a while ago, but the words just are not jumping into my brain yet. Alas. So I suppose in an effort to re-locate Clementine, who seems to have gone on vacation, I shall just write, and see what becomes of it. (For those who read the last line and are confused, go read my post entitled “The Muse.”)

One of the hardest things about being home from Japan is trying to explain what I did, who I met, how it all worked, and how it has changed me. Most people ask the question, “So. How was Japan?” Oh I don’t know, how was 24 days of your month of July? You see–that question is nearly impossible to answer because it would look something like this, “It was great, it was hard, it was easy, it was fulfilling, it left me hungering, it was peaceful, it was confusing, it was smooth, it was full of curve balls, it was amazing, it was heart-breaking, and it was so full of God’s presence,” to which the invariable follow-up question is, “Ok….so how was Japan?” I would LOVE to talk about Japan–trust me. I love talking about it, thinking about it, showing people pictures, telling stories, but I need specific questions in order to share. 

Alright I’ll climb off my soap box on this one; I just needed to explain my difficulty in answering THE question. 

I suppose what I want you to know is this. I have changed. I might look the same and talk the same, but my eyes have seen hurt, my ears have heard broken stories, and my heart is laden with the pain of the missionaries, their families, students at camp, and the people of Japan. I am still trying to process all of what this means for me, but I know it is a challenge to seek those with broken stories now, and for the rest of my life. I do not need to travel to Mississippi or Japan to fight the brokenness of this world; I can do it at Taylor and at home. 

Sometimes I am a lot better at writing than I am talking, so I keep this blog to process my thoughts as well as figure out what I want to tell people. Bear with my endless stories, or seemingly unconnected connections or random souvenirs that I have everywhere. I promise I’ll remember how to blog again, but for now please be patient with me as I try to re-locate Clementine and find my drawing board. 

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Japan-Final Post.

I have put off this post. I have tried to not write it, because it is the last piece of my trip I still have in my hands. I have all the memories; I have all the contact information; I have the pictures, the stories, and the blessings, but this is the last piece left uncompleted. This is the last piece that ties the trip to now, not to yesterday. Nevertheless, I need to write. I need to process, and I need to have something on paper so I can attempt to answer the bombarding questions to come. This past week on vacation with my family has been an excellent buffer between myself and the “real world,” but now is time to come up with my story and prepare to face real life again. 
 
For those of you who have been following along, you know that this is not really my story–it’s God’s. 
 
He led my trip leader to call me on that lonely day in the mountains of Tennessee.
He led so many people to generously support me prayerfully and financially.
He led my manager to give me time off without question.
He led me to help lead worship and minister to the missionaries and high school students.
He led me to listen to overhear the missionary’s story on needing counselors.
He led me to be in the right place to hear the request again.
He led me to respond.
He opened all the doors necessary for changing the flight.
He opened the hearts of my trip leader, my parents, my boss, my co-workers, and my coach so that I would be able to stay. 
He led me through a week in real-life in Tokyo.
He led me through devotions with my girls.
He led me when I was so burdened by their pain that I could not move.
And He led me home when it was time to leave. 
 
I am at a loss of what to write other than God is so in control, and so good. He has a plan, and He invites us to be part of that plan. I am so grateful I took the opportunity to join into this piece, because it has taught me so much and blessed me beyond measure. It was so hard, and so good at the same time. As I look at the last two years of my life, I see how everything worked for the good of His plan. I cannot begin to explain the mercies He has shown me every morning, every blessing He has poured out, and every tear He has held in His mighty hand. 
 
So what happens now? I’m home from Japan. I’m not in mission-trip mode or camp mode anymore. I don’t have a plan to follow or a goal to accomplish. How do I continue to listen for God’s voice and leading in my life? Well the short answer is, I’m not sure. The long answer is, I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to figure it out. The reality is, we don’t get to live on the mountaintop. Moses visited the mountain, and he had to come down. So did many others in the Bible. The mountain experiences are a gift, an incredible blessing, but they aren’t the norm. The real test of faith, the real journey, is on the plateaus and in the valleys. My prayer for now, and forevermore, is for myself to be attentive to God’s voice, even in the darkness, the hardship, and the silence. So all of you who have followed my journey and prayed for me, please pray that I can continue moving confidently forward on this spiritual journey of learning and listening, despite logic, despite expectations, and with complete faith in the One who is sending me. After all–He is not Safe, but He is good.
 
Now for prayers much larger than me. The country of Japan is so spiritually dark. The missionaries there are spiritually and physically worn. Join me in prayer for revival in the country, and spiritual and physical rest for the Christians and missionaries there. 
 
Praise God for all He has taught and shown me; here lies the end of this chapter of my journey, and the next page of unknown is now to begin. 
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