Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Do it Anyway."

One of my team leaders on my Romania mission trip was this dude (the only other male on our team of eight), Bryan, who looked like Jesus...with an afro...and who shared facial similarities with Alex the lion off of Madagascar. Not even kidding. Bryan's a pretty cool guy.
So my team did this thing where we all wrote each other encouragement letters. (Which were really just letters filled to the brim with ego-boosting compliments, scripture verses, and sometimes taped on pebbles or drawings of...poop--I'm not going into that one. We weren't allowed to read our encouragement letters until the trip was over. Needless to say, someone was appointed to take care of my encouragement letters for me because the temptation was too much. (I spent my time concocting plans like how I would say I needed to get something out of the person's backpack who was "taking care of my letters", snatch the letters, hide them somewhere on my person, and then read them secretly in the airplane bathroom on the flight home. Don't judge, OK!)
When the trip was over and the letters were finally in my rightful possession, I rushed through each of them, simultaneously "awh"ing, laughing, and crying. (It was like The Hills on steroids.) Even though each individual letter was a treasure, Bryan's was one of the most impacting. Even though it's been nearly five months, every time I read it, I'm convicted more and more. He took Mother Teresa's famous "Do it Anyway" prayer and Bryan-fied it. It now happily lives on my mirror and I take it down constantly take it down, lay out my life for examination before me, and then mentally place the letter's message over it and see if things line up. They never do, but the words are wise instructions that help motivate me to strive for a better life and way of living.

The "Do it Anyway" prayer--Bryan-fied:

People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered.
Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.
If your are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.
The biggest people with the biggest ideas can be show down by the smallest people with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.
People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for the underdog anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.
People really need help, but may attack you if you help them.
Help anyway.
Give the world the best you've got and you'll get kicked in the teeth. [Oh Bryan.]
Give the world the best you've got anyway.

Friday, November 26, 2010

It's a Love Story -- Just Say Yes

On September 26th, at like, 1 a.m., my view of how my relationship with Christ was supposed to be was radically altered. And I wrote a post about it later on that day--in the reasonable hours. The title of that post was "So I'm in Love", and it was a heart confession of my realization that I needed to be in love with Jesus (like He is with me), and that I actually was in the form of four paragraphs.
September 26th, seventy-nine days ago, that was the beginning. The beginning of a more intimate relationship with my Savior, the beginning of learning to trust Him, the beginning of learning how to have faith--I've never really had any before, and the beginning of falling in love...again. Last night I lay in my bed awake way into the night, conducting an interrogation with my heart. (I don't know about anyone else, but I for one never actually know what I really feel or why I feel that way until I sit down with my heart and ask all these very tough questions until I've scrounged the answer out of myself. And that's what I was doing last night.) I was laying there, earbuds in--of course--listening to an instrumental version of Love Story by some Jon Schmidt dude. I wasn't really paying attention, it was just nice background music while I sorted through my thoughts and stared out the window at the bending pine trees in the night wind. I had a lot on my mind.
God, I know you love me. I know you love me in a way that no one else can because you are love and everyone else is just...human. But come on, where's the catch? I don't understand. There must be some days when you don't love me, or some ulterior motive for you loving me. So what is it?
Does this conversation sound sacrilegious to you? Because it does to me! Really, my impertinence towards the frickin' creator of every molecule of my body, of every thousands of leaves, of every mountain range, human organ, and entire universe is appalling! But...I can justify myself--sorta. I'm distrustful, I've been disappointed, I've learned to be wary of people because they usually end up using you. I didn't use to be so jaded, I used to absolutely love and blindly trust everyone, but a few really bad relationships will change that. And it did.
God was asking me to fall in love for the second time this year, and after the first time went so awfully wrong, I was hesitant and reluctant at the least. So now my distrustful, bitter, and questioning view of life and any form of relationships with people has influenced my relationship with my Maker, and I'm beginning to ask Him, "Are you really for real?"
I lay there, thinking over these things that have been on my mind for about a month now? two? And I felt like there was an answer, or something I was missing.
Come on, God, say something.
I thought in the silence.
Except it wasn't silent. Like I said, I was listening to this instrumental version of Love Story by that Jon Schmidt dude, and I began to focus on it. I remember how this used to be my favorite song, especially the line, "It's a love story/baby just say 'yes'" That was my favorite part because it's like, the peak of the song. There's a decision to make, is the guy going to say yes? He better say yes, he'd be an idiot if he didn't! Hello! Why wouldn't he say yes? Taylor frickin' Swift is telling him she's in love with him, he better not pass up this love story. (Yes, I get very passionate about this kinda thing.) And then, it was as if, I guess you could say the Holy Spirit, but it was as if something inside of me asked--
Why don't you say 'yes'?
Say 'yes'? To what?
There was that voice, that voice of perfect calm and reasoning--so obviously it was God and not me. Say yes because I love you. I love you, but you're afraid. Why don't you love me, and trust me? Say yes because I'm extending my hand to you, I died so that you would take it. If you take it, you will walk hand in hand with me throughout the rest of your life, through everything. Say yes because even though it's frightening and out of your understanding and control, it's worth it. Say yes to believing that I love you and never leave you or hurt you. Because I never, never will. Say yes to giving up your life and your self every single day so that you will love me. Say yes because I have SO much more for you than this. Just say yes.
Of course, when you put it like that God, there's not much else I can say, is there? On September 26th something huge happened, and it forever changed the way I felt about God and how our relationship should be. I realized that He didn't want a partnership with me, He really didn't even need me to begin with. But he wants me. He doesn't need me and I really can't do anything for Him, and yet He still wants me? Even though He had to lose a lot so that I could be with Him? This is crazy love! It is love, but you can't "fall in love" in just one day, reasonably speaking. You can be in love with the way someone looks in one day, but you can't even physically see God without dying because He's SO beautiful, so you can't exactly be in love with God's great looks. (Plus, that's just weird.) He wants something different, deeper. He wants us to genuinely love Him. That love began in me a long time ago, in a very premature way. I knew God loved me, and I liked that He loved me. So I kinda liked Him back and would come to Him whenever I had a problem, and I would tell Him the latest gossip among my circle of friends, but the way I felt about God never changed me. When I fell in love for the first time with an actual boy, I completely changed. I thought about him 24/7, I talked about him 24/7 (that is, whenever I actually talked because usually I was thinking about him too much to even do so), and I smiled whenever I did either. So that was 24/7. People could look at me, and say, "Oh my, you're in love with him."
No one has ever walked up to me, and by just the ridiculous, hopeless expression on my face said, "Oh my, you're in love with Him." No one. But they should have, because I was " in love" with God, right? Right, that's why I totally dumped Him when I was "in love." That's why my dashing Romeo became my god. That's why I convinced myself that it was fine that I never spent time with the Lord--unless it was to talk about Romeo--anymore. I AM SUCH AN IDIOT. THE END.
I don't love God like that yet. But I want to. More than anything now. I want people to look at my face and know, I'm ready to be in love again, but with God only, please. This is a new chapter, this is the point A of this journey. But it's not so much a journey to a place, but rather a journey through a complete life transformation of redemption.
Last night I lay there still awake even after the song had ended (after I had listened to it, like, a bajillion times). I hadn't said anything yet. I wanted to, but what I wanted to say would be a promise that I would need to be willing to follow through with. Not just last night, but tomorrow (now today), and the next day, and the day after that, and so on until my life had no more days. And I don't like commitment, I never have. But if I can't commit to God and this relationship, what will or can I commit to? I know God's love for me will never end (1 Corinthians 13:7-8, anyone?). I know it won't.
So I said yes.

Monday, November 8, 2010

God of Even THIS City?

While I was at the Lancaster's yesterday afternoon with my family (a homeless outreach--or really, just church how it SHOULD be--in downtown Jackson), Mrs. Amy shared the story behind the well known song "God of This City".

A band and a few other members of their church went on a mission trip to Pattaya, Thailand recently. In Pattaya, there are over 30,000 female prostitutes over the age of 18. (That is not counting the ones under 18, or even the male prostitutes there) While they were walking around the town, they walked into a local bar there called...."The Climax Club", which was looking for bands to play. They agreed to give it a try and asked how long the owner wanted them to play. The owner said, "As long as your friends continues to buy cokes." So they ended up buying cokes for 2-3 hours.

So for over 2 hours this band sang Jesus over these prostitutes who had no idea what they were singing! All of the sudden this song "came down from heaven," as one of the band members recalls. Then spontaneously they started singing:

You're the God of this city

You're the King of these people

You're the Lord of this nation

You are

You're the light in this darkness

You're the hope to the hopeless

You're the peace to the restless

You are

For there is no one like our God

There is no one like our God

Greater things have yet to come

Greater things are still to be done in this city

Greater things have yet to come

Greater things are still to be done here

I had heard this story before, but I somehow forgot that it took place in Thailand. Thailand, y'know Betsie, that country you're going to next summer. The words and the meaning behind them hit me so hard. These words were sung over Thailand, in a place so dark and hopeless it was a tangible substance. As I've been researching Thailand and asking missionaries I know who have gone there on mission trips over the past few years, I learn that Thailand is more dark, more hurt, and more hopeless than I could have ever imagined. What am I getting myself into?! When I read the stories and heartbreaking statistics of its poverty, I am filled with this sense of fear and overwhelming helplessness. How can this ever possibly change? It will never change! I asked God to let me see the hurt around me like He does, and He has been opening my eyes, believe me! But I have forgotten to ask God to let me see the hope, beauty, and possible redemption around me, too.

Greater things can come to Thailand. There is nothing, and no one--not one prostitute, pimp, brothel mother, abusive crack addict father--that the Lord can not redeem and transform. If we allow it, greater things can come to all of us. Even Thailand.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Now I Understand.

In the very last scene of Voyage of The Dawn Treader, Aslan tells the children that they are now too old to come back to Narnia. Lucy, through her tears says, "It isn’t Narnia, you know. It’s you. We shan’t meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?" To this Aslan replies that they will meet him there. And when Edmund asks whether he is there, too, Aslan answers, "I am. But there, I have another name. You must learn to know Me by that name. This was the very reason WHY you were brought to Narnia. That by knowing me here for a little while, you will know me better there."

I have a huge soft spot in my heart reserved specifically for the Chronicles of Narnia. Cheesy? I know. But you have to understand, I grew up listening to my father reading all the books aloud. My siblings and I would spend hours running around outside like ragamuffins, each playing a role of one of the Pevensies--or a wolf. I spent my days daydreaming about stumbling across a magical door that would hurl me into another world, one filled with wonder and beauty. In that world I would be a queen. (I was only eight...ten...eleven, OK?) And then in--what was it?--2005, Andrew Adamson's "The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe" was released. My Narnia obsession skyrocketed. (<--Understatement.) I mean, how could it not? Aslan's sacrifice made me cry, and Skandar Keynes made me swoon--yes, I am that shallow. It really couldn't get better. Fast forward five years and I'm not sitting in a cinema chair, anticipating an epic movie while my sister squealed next to me. Instead, I'm sitting on a bed, in a spare room, not in Mississippi, but rather thousands of miles away in Romania. And instead of the buzz that you here before a movie begins, Imogen Heap is singing in my ears while I savor an hour alone (which is priceless on a mission trip). I had just sat through an overwhelming worship session with my team, and I needed to process all the emotions my heart was being bombarded with. I knew Jesus was asking something of me, and I had an idea of what it was, but the raw realization scared me. In fact, ROMANIA was scaring me. Unlike back home, no one knew me here, it was like first impressions every single day. God had taken me away from everything and everyone I knew, and when you are called to walk away from your day-to-day life, you discover that you no longer are in control.
So there I am, criss-cross applesauce on a spare bed in a tiny spare room, my Bible opened before me, my journal beside it, and my palms face up on my knees, trying to think. Like I said, I was listening to Imogen Heap, it was a song that she wrote which is on the Narnia soundtrack.

Can't close my eyes
They're wide awake
Every hair on my body
has got a thing for this place
Oh empty my heart
I've got to make room for this feeling
so much bigger than me

As I listened to these words that I had heard over a million times and had become more than familiar, I was surprised by the depth of them. How was it that they perfectly expressed the way I was feeling about Romania and God? Yeah, obviously Imogen Heap has a time machine in her possession, checked out my journal in June 2010, and then went back to whenever she wrote that song. That sneaky girl! Just kidding...but kinda really. Romania terrified me, but I was also taken by it. It was beautiful...wondrous, even...and everyday exposed me to more and more incredible things. It was all so much! I couldn't hold on to the things that were going on as they were thousands of miles away, I needed to live in the moment, where I was. It was just for a month, right?
Except. I became lost in Romania. I became lost in God's magic and crazy love. And when I left, I felt as much sorrow as if I was leaving an awesome kingdom in which I was a princess. Maybe it's because Romania was awesome, and there I learned that I was God's princess. I didn't understand why my Father could be so cold, how could He allow me to go somewhere like Romania, allow me to feel the things I did and see the things I did, how could he allow me to meet the seven beautiful people I did...and then just drop me back in my life?! I used to think it was fine, I got by like everyone else, whatever. But after I encountered my True Lover and all that He had to offer--which was so much better!--I wasn't fine anymore.
WHY, WHY, WHY? What was the point? There was no way I could hear God in Mississippi like I did in Romania. Why? Why let me see what I did, become broken like I became, and then just be expected to come back here? Why? Three months after being home, just about half an hour ago, I read that above paragraph, of what Aslan said to Lucy and Edmund. And I know God is saying the same to me. I saw what I saw, met who I met, encountered God the way I did, I felt what I felt there; so that now I can see, meet, encounter God, and feel the way that my Father wants me to HERE.

Now I understand.