Saturday, April 25, 2015

To be brave would be an awfully big adventure.

It's a word or phrase that seems to be everywhere. 
When you pick up a book it's hidden until the 3rd chapter, when you suddenly see it pop out at you. It's somehow in all the sermons you listen to, cleverly woven it. 
Regardless of the chosen playlist or genre, it will find it's way into your Spotify. 
And when you try to watch a movie to stop thinking about it for a few minutes, it ends up being the theme of the entire film. God's so incredibly creative and clever like that. When He wants you to learn something, there's just no use whatsoever trying to run from it. Might as well buckle your seatbelt and get ready for a ride. 

It began in a conversation with a woman in South Africa. As I briefly explained what I did, she said "You are very brave." I kind of snickered before I could stop myself. Brave?! Nope. I just hang out and help people. It's fun for me. Nothing very brave about that.  But more people from home kept using that word in communication with me. I just thought of how ridiculous that is. Especially because as I was in South Africa, I began to experience some pretty intense anxiety and depression. Something I had not dealt with in quite a number of years. That certainly pointed out that I wasn't brave. I whined and complained to a dear friend about it all the time and the only thing I felt was unstable. (Thankfully she reminded me it's okay to be a mess.)

When I found out I was coming home sooner than expected, it hit me hard. I cried. And complained. And was angry. A LOT.  I freaked out about leaving. I freaked out about separating from my friends. I freaked out about changes. I freaked out about coming home. I freaked out about the future. I just felt not ready for all of it. My "older sister" brought me to the airport. She hugged me and told me I could "be brave."  But all I was that day was so afraid of everything that the moment I had to separate from her at security, I simply began sobbing and didn't stop for about 7 hours. (The poor man next to me on that plane probably had the most awkward flight of his life.) 

After getting home, I couldn't decide if I wanted to see people or hide out. My emotions were all over the place and quite unpredictable. The thing that was so hard for me was that everyone wants to meet up with me and then spend time telling me I'm so brave. Which feels like the biggest lie in the world. I don't like that people see me that way while I'm sobbing as I drive home every night and texting Africa in tears saying "I can't do this. I don't want to do this. I'm so lost here. I just want to go back." But the thing is.....every time I turn on music, there's this theme of being brave going on with all the top songs. Every conversation with Africa ends up with "Be brave." Every book I open has the word popping out within pages. Every podcast I click on wants to tackle the idea. I can't get away from it! So I decided to do the only logical it. Understand it. Dissect it. And be it. 

The more I've dived into studying the concept of bravery, the more I see that I knew nothing about it. My ideas of bravery before now included superheros seemingly without fear. Firefighters marching straight into flames. Soldiers working hard to fight for and protect our freedom. Those are all the pictures I'd put on the posters that plaster the wall of the grade-school classroom. And of course, when asked who the bravest person in the world is, I'd say Jesus. So naturally, I turned to scripture to study how He did things. My ultimate goal being to strive for His example.
This is when things began to get very interesting.

Jesus. Brave. Okay. What kinds of things did Jesus do? 
He stood up for what was right despite what was popular. 
He defended and protected to unseen and forgotten. He redeemed the ruined. 
He faced the painful and the ugly rather than hide from it. He wept with those He loved. He felt all the emotions all the time about everything. He put others first. He served. He was humble. He didn't stop to build any form of home or empire or estate, even though He could've had the best. (“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” -Matthew 8:20) He loved deeply. He hurt deeply for others. He noticed others-like really noticed them. He was honest. He rested when He needed it. He was real and vulnerable and raw. He often hid away to be with The Father. He truly sat with and listened to others. He looked into the eyes of the unwanted. The vile. The dirty. And told them of a King who was crazy about them. He believed when nobody else did. And He was simply himself. At all times. As I was thinking through these things, the whole picture of bravery in my head took on a new life. A new color. And a new form. I began to see what it could look like for me to be brave:

I can be weak. I can cry all I need to. I can be messy. I can be in a season where I have no clue what I'm doing with my life. I can feel lost. Homeless even. Unsure. Small. And I can be completely open about it without feeling any shame. As long as I am loving, leaning on, and putting my trust in the Lord. As long as I live in obedience to Him. As long as my daily goal is for others to experience His love, redemption, and grace. As long as I am serving and selflessly loving others. And as long as His Kingdom is what matters to me at the end of the day. As long as the mess isn't an excuse for inaction. You see, we don't have to have it all together. In fact, we don't have to have any of it together. Being brave just means that even in the junk we don't cease being crazy about who Jesus is and willing to be like Him. He takes care of the rest. Is that beautiful news for you today? It sure is for me. I think I'd like to try being mighty brave.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Lessons.

This Easter was unlike any I can recall. 
Sure, I love Easter. Best day of the year! 
Everything about this world, life, who we are and how we do it rests on one man, an incomprehensible sacrifice, and an empty tomb. I adore Him. 
Most Easters consist of either being with the high school ministry in Mexico or celebrating at Big Valley Grace. It’s been years since there’s been any change in that. Until today. 

All week, the Lord has been convicting, teaching, working overtime on me. 
It hasn’t been the warm fuzzies. In fact, it’s been the total opposite.
Hard. Harsh. Tears. Conviction. Asking for a contrite heart and brokenness. 
Eish. (As South Africans say.) Watch what you pray for. 

I began the week being disappointed and trying not to sit in hurt and hold any form of a grudge. In the middle of desperately wrestling through forgiveness, I felt God saying “I want you to specifically do ____ for them."
“But Lord, I’m in the middle of explaining to you why I’m upset. 
How can I possibly do that when they’ve hurt me?” 
“Because I said so.”
So I begrudgingly obeyed. Feeling myself acting like a spoiled little child who stomps off to obey what she’s been commanded to do because she knows she can’t win this round. 

As the week progressed, the Lord gave me several opportunities to love on several people I just didn’t want to. Over and over. I did it with a grudge. What I really wanted was to withhold myself from them until they saw the light of things. Until they knew how I was feeling about their actions. And THEN. THEN I might decide to love them well. If they earn it. But knowing this to be quite an unhealthy way of doing relationships, I obeyed Jesus. In the middle of all that, I heard Him tell me very clearly that I needed to expand my willingness to love selflessly and give until it hurts. Now that’s one of those concepts that we often talk about, but it’s been a long time since He gave me a serious opportunity to learn this through action. I fought that. I could handle being selfless and forgiving and even loving well someone who has been really affecting my heart. But to give to them until it hurts? That was a very sore subject for days. And I finally gave in, knowing it’s pointless to try to argue with Jesus. And besides, it’s something I knew deep down I needed to be re-learning right now. 

This morning I was given another opportunity to lay aside what I wanted to do in the name of loving well. It was hard, but I knew the action itself is sometimes a physical act of forgiveness for us, so I stomped to it, mumbling grumpy things under my breath. And then thoroughly crying afterwards. (Hey. Forgiving someone doesn’t just make it all happy again overnight!) Then I went to church. And the pastor asked us if we’ve ever had to work at forgiving someone who didn’t even know they were hurting us. And how hard was it? He proceeded to remind us that Jesus did just that on the cross. His act was extravagant, totally selfless, forgiving, and giving until it hurt. (More than we’ll ever be able to comprehend.) He did all of this for every human-knowing how full of sin and ugliness and selfishness and rejection for Him we would be.  Can you imagine?!?! I can’t! He did all of that. with full foresight! 
And here I am whining about things that in comparison don’t matter one little iota. Can I live a life of generosity and extravagant love and forgiveness and selflessness? Without expecting anything back? Can I give until I am hurting and sacrificing, without it being tied to what the recipient will do for me? Freely and in joy? Perhaps without them even knowing what it cost? I have to try. Because my Jesus did it. And I want to reflect Him. 

This year, Easter has been different. It’s been a good long look at the self-centered person inside. It’s been brokenness over the ugly thoughts and desires I can have. It’s been realizing I’ve barely begun to grasp what loving lavishly and extravagantly at all times looks like. And it’s been the knowledge that I truly don’t know what it really means to give until it hurts. But I have the perfect example. The empty tomb meant resurrection. New hope began. The world was changed. And He continues all of those things.  It didn’t stop that day. He is always at work on beautiful resurrections of things in our lives, hearts, homes, families, relationships. He restores. He brings things back from the dead. He makes them beautiful and gives new hope and a new beginning. And He even changes our entire world. The empty tomb doesn’t just mean Jesus was raised from the dead. It means everything else gets to be, too. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Broken Tiles.

It's been an interesting season. South Africa has swept in and whisked me off my feet. I've found myself falling in love with this place and missing others all at the same time. Living in a foreign country that sometimes feels so familiar and sometimes feels totally alien. Learning new things daily. Taking in the colorful tapestry of culture, language, accents, and places. And then-like being hit over the head from behind-suddenly trudging through the mud and muck of some very difficult things that I didn't see coming. Finding myself in the presence of that old familiar voice I never wanted to hear again. Anxiety. Depression even. Waking up one day and being shocked when I glance in the mirror to see that brokenness and messiness have hit me in a new and unique way and the person who was once inside this shell is somehow very different right now. That realization is quite frightening at first. And was fought against. Despised, even. Until finally accepted. Which is actually the best moment of all, because even though I may not see it all leave at that moment, I begin to learn the meaning of it. I begin to understand that only when I am shattered and helpless on my own can I truly begin serving others well.

I have rarely felt this many emotions at once. A visa extension was denied and instead of coming home in June or July, I am on a plane in 2 weeks. I went through some serious sobbing when I found out. Anxiety flooding my veins as if it was taking over and draining me of my life. I don't feel ready to leave this place. The people. New and old friends. The way Jesus has absolutely blown my mind with sunsets, people, nature, animals, children, culture, ministry. There've been days of watching Him work overtime. And days of talking, exploring, learning, and laughing with dear ones. Days of working alone and quietness and wrestling with myself. Sickness. Good health. Loneliness. All of it. And it's going to end more suddenly and abruptly than wanted. 

Yesterday I awoke a bit different. A bit more like the person I am used to. 
A spark in my eye and an extra jump in my dance. (My feet aren't thanking me. Zumba blisters is a thing and they're not happy that I'm "all about the bass" lately.) There may be many things that are disappointing me right now-places and people and things that are taking me by difficult surprise. There may be the biggest mix of emotions ever felt at once. Emotions that change by the hour sometimes. Trepidation over a future I know nothing about. Will it be hard to adjust to things and will others understand? Will I fit back in or have to start over? Is there a place for me? What'll I do? Who will do it with me? How do I live? No idea. No plans. No fall-backs. No "Well, if THAT doesn't work out I'll just......." 

Yesterday the Holy Spirit whispered to my heart. He reminded me that this is the opportunity for the greatest adventure yet. And that it's okay to have a huge knot in my stomach right now. It's okay to say "I have no Earthly idea what the heck I'm doing." As long as I still choose to step onto the ride, lift my hands, and allow the operator to be in charge rather than insisting I understand where it's headed, how fast, what waits for me, and how long it'll take to get there. 
It's okay to feel all the things. It's okay to be in a million pieces. I am seriously learning that there is a way to absolutely flourish in that state. And do it beautifully. 
Being honest about things and refusing to sit in a dark self-focussed corner. It is possible to use that soft and sensitive state to love even better and gentler and more fully than before. After all, Jesus served all of humanity the very most when He was in His messiest, weakest, and most shattered state. One beyond any I will ever know. He spoke, encouraged, loved, took care of, and lived an example in the middle of unbearable pain. And that is the balance I must learn. To stop being ashamed of it and allow it to make me more beautiful even if I don't understand how that works. All I know is that when you have a bunch of shattered pieces of broken tile from different things and places, and you pick them up and put them all together, you have one of the most beautiful inventions of all time. A mosaic. Some of it is bright, bold, and beautiful. Some of it soft and lovely and inviting. Some of it even reflects whatever is around it back onto itself to be glimpsed in the light of the colorful beauty. It becomes something to behold, one piece at a time. And that is what I long for. That is what we should all want to be.