Monday, July 25, 2011

Jesus and His Glorious, Inglorious Love

This past week we've been in PA where Michael is filling in for a local pastor (and beloved friend of ours). He has preached sermons, officiated a wedding and a funeral, sat in meetings, and visited people in the hospital; sort of a "total immersion" encounter with pastoral ministry.

Anyway, this snapshot of a life poured out- shepherding and loving a community- has stirred up a lot of thoughts and feelings for me. I'll be honest, I've been less than thrilled with the idea of being in the pastorate. For me, the idea of committing to do life with a community of people that I don't get to choose- people who may be complainers, who may put unrealistic pressure on my family, who may not appreciate what I have to offer- doesn't excite me. In fact, the very idea of doing life with Christians doesn't always excite me. Christians can be nasty! They can be materialistic and superficial, apathetic and dispassionate, hypocritical and backbiting. Who would want to commit to that?

Then this week I've thought of Jesus. He poured His life out for a faithless flock. He loved and did life with people who turned their back on Him, even after He had loved them perfectly. Did He walk with them in grace day in and day out because they deserved His love, because they were just such stellar and holy people that He felt at home around them? Was He impressed with their affection for God and their appreciation for all He had done? Doubt it. Somewhere along the way I had forgotten that the church- the people of God- never earned God's love or commitment. I had also forgotten that I never earned it either. In fact, I had forgotten that all those things that I dislike about "Christians" describe me pretty well. Materialistic. Apathetic. Hypocritical.

And yet Jesus does life with me, and everyone else in His thankless flock. He is committed to His people, not because we impress Him, but because of His great love. He is committed to making us holy, and He is in it for the long-haul. So maybe learning to love like Jesus means learning to be poured out like water, without the appreciation I think I deserve. Maybe it means learning to love people who don't seem very "deserving" at all. Maybe it means my heart being humbled and changed.

I am thankful that He is using this small taste of "less-than-glorious" kind of ministry to show me just how glorious the ministry of Jesus, our Shepherd, truly is.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Love Letters

I recently posted a brief and somewhat anti-climactic post about our one year anniversary (which was June 27th, people!) and promised "more soon." My short post was in part because I can get overwhelmed with all I want to say about a certain thing and have no idea where to begin or how to organize things. So I thought I'd just jump in! I want to reflect on our marriage thus far by honoring the one person who has made it all happen: Jesus. If not for Him, we wouldn't be married. And I'm not exaggerating! It was Jesus who first brought us together, because it was Christ in me that Michael was attracted to from the very beginning- even before he was a Christian. And it was Jesus' love displayed so profoundly toward me through Michael's example that ultimately melted my heart and made me want to be his wife. And it is the Gospel that continues to fuel our marriage with grace and energy to "go out" to others and tell them this good news, even as a way of celebrating our one year anniversary! But I decided that rather than try and explain all of those things (at least, not right now!) I'll let some of our history speak for itself.

Here's a poem that Michael wrote me on our first official "date"- one year before he proposed.

A town has its names,
Names to signify recognition.
The Smiths, who are they?
Perhaps the big contributors;
Smith Library, Hospital, Arts Center.
They give a piece of themselves
For their name's sake.
My heart has its names.
Recognize their significance.
My love, who is she?
Perhaps a big contributor;
Her joy, diligence, love-
She gives herself
For His name's sake.

Here's some of a letter I wrote him while in Europe about 6 months before he proposed:

"...I'm so thankful for all God has done to bring us together (including the things that were against our will!) It just increases my love and trust for this God who knows infinitely better than we do...who lovingly cuts away the dead branches in our lives so that we can grow to our fullest and bear much fruit. I pray that we can continue giving ourselves more freely and fully to the loving hand of God in our lives, trusting that everything He prunes is for our good- and for a chance to know Him more deeply and walk with Him more closely.

...I pray that we can give our lives away because we have found life; that we can be poured out like water for love of Jesus. I also pray that we can do this together. I often thank God for the honor and blessing it is to have you in my life right now- a precious gift, an example of Christ- because of your love and servanthood toward me, your sacrifice for my good. You have taught me so much- not just intellectually but actually- about the love of God, and you have been one of the greatest instruments of healing in my life..."

And some of a letter he wrote me yesterday:

"...Your presence in our home brings energy that I can only say is Spirit-driven. You and your relationship with God inspire me to want something like that."

I'm thankful to God for writing this romance that doesn't center around Michael or me, but for giving us a marriage that brings both of us into greater admiration and affection for Christ. My prayer is that through our marriage, He will continue to make Himself known; that in our own home and to all who see us do life together,
the story of the Gospel will be lived out and seen as beautiful.

And just for good measure, here's the front of the card Michael gave me that had the oh-so-serious poem inside:

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Africa Journals, Part 2

6/16- Flight from Uganda to Sudan

"Today we start the third day of our journey, leaving for Sudan without our suitcases.
Lord, You're showing me how little I truly need apart from You. Sleep, clean clothes, clean body, A/C, Starbucks coffee- these things are not necessities. (It's amazing that I typically think they are necessities!) Thank You for my journal and pen. Thank You for the kind gift of a toothbrush (we got one from the first class section of our international flight- our suitcases were lost for 6 days). Thank you for instant coffee this morning and for a to-go cup. Such kind gifts from You. Thank You for these amazing views this morning of another part of the world that is still Your world. Lord, You are here in Africa. We're not the ones bringing You- You're simply inviting us in to this part of Your story, and showing us more of who You already are. What will we learn about You in Africa? Show us and change us. God, You are not an American!

The adventure of our MAF
(Mission Aviation Fellowship- an organization of missionary pilots that fly small planes into rural areas to make ministry and other types of care possible) is wonderful. Tears came as we lifted off and the realization that we're here washed over me. Here in the wild, in the heartbeat of another world- that is still Your world- all the dreams that have yet words to explain...but the urge to see and know You as a God this big, this untamed, unsafe. You are the Lion of Judah. Lord captivate us by Your goodness, which isn't safe. It isn't nice and neat. It isn't 8 hours of sleep and a fresh pot of coffee every morning. It doesn't always smell good or feel clean and dry. It is risky, uncomfortable, offensive, undomesticated, and most certainly unpredictable. Teach us to follow You into all of these things, and not just what makes us comfortable.

Thank you that I don't care about my suitcase right now. This is what it is to be captivated by You: to have inconveniences or trials that barely even
distract because the joy of being in Your presence overpowers- it outweighs these light and momentary afflictions. I ask for more, Lord! More encounters with You, which aren't always in the miraculous. They're in the trees, the instant coffee, the smiles, the songs, the joy."

The MAF airfield in Uganda- such a beautiful morning!

Excited to get on our plane

The mountains were beautiful

The Nile River!

Landing in Kajo Keji, Sudan

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Africa Journals, Part 1

In waiting for the words to come about our trip to Africa, I realized that sharing some of my journal entries might be the best first step! It's amazing to look back and see how God answered my prayers, only not in the way I might have expected or even wanted. I'm constantly amazed at how He knows best and gives best, even when it conflicts with my own definition.

6/15- Flight from Paris to Nairobi:

"On the plane, suspended in time- between my past and my future, my dreams and reality, my questions and answers. Lord, You have brought me to this place. How long it has been in the works! At least 12 years since I've been asking for Africa.
Thank You that this week will be about much more than geography. Lord, I ask that this week You would open my eyes, break my heart, and close my mouth. Let it be humbling. Silencing. Let it be about changing my perspective. Break us out of our American comfort zones.

...I lay down my expectations and all the things unsaid. Speak what You will, how You will, and when You will. Let me be filled in the power of silence and awe. Let me trust Your timing and the clarity of Your voice, just as You taught me to do in coming here. You are purposeful in what You say, and You're never late."

Waking up in Paris, France! Flight #2

Michael preparing his lesson for the Bible School

Crossing the Alps on our way to Nairobi- Flight # 3

Saturday, July 2, 2011

One Year

One year ago, I walked down the aisle to these words.

O God beyond all praising, we worship you today
and sing the love amazing that songs cannot repay;
for we can only wonder at every gift you send,
at blessings without number and mercies without end:
we lift our hearts before you and wait upon your word,
we honor and adore you, our great and mighty Lord.

Then hear, O gracious Savior, accept the love we bring,
that we who know your favor may serve you as our king;
and whether our tomorrows be filled with good or ill,
we'll triumph through our sorrows and rise to bless you still:
to marvel at your beauty and glory in your ways,
and make a joyful duty our sacrifice of praise.

Coming home from Africa on our wedding anniversary weekend, I'm praising God that these words are still teaching me, and that He is still at the center of our story together. In fact, He's delighted in showing me just how central the person of Jesus Christ really is- and has been from the beginning- in our story.

More soon...