Monday, October 21, 2013

My Calling When Caught Inbetween

In some ways, this year is a season of finishing. In May I graduate from seminary, and hopefully after that we'll be moving out of Dallas. It has been an amazing four years that I wouldn't trade for anything; it has exceeded my expectations in every way. I can't express how profoundly I've been changed during my time at Redeemer, or how grateful I am for the opportunity. And heck, I even kind of like Texas now! (Well, mainly the breakfast tacos.) But I'm also ready to be done. I'm tired of keeping all the plates spinning-- two jobs, full time graduate school, and a church internship is fun, but meant to be more of a sprint than a marathon. So in some ways, I feel like I'm just hanging in there; channeling my energy for one last lap, one more mile, one final year of all the reading, writing, to-do lists, event-planning, sweating (did I mention it's hot in Texas?) and studying. It's a season of perseverance, of finishing well, and--let's be honest--of "senior-itis." 

But in some ways, this year is also a season of new beginnings. We don't know exactly what is next, which actually means we've got to be very active participants in exploring the possibilities. Job applications, phone conversations, city searches, and lots of prayer remind us that things are getting ready to change. Big time. It's kind of like approaching the summit of a mountain and almost being able to see the view. So in some ways, I feel like I'm just getting started; channeling my energy for a new adventure, a new challenge, a new set of plates to spin. It's a season of anticipation, of expectation, and of unknowns.

The good news for me is that whatever the effect this caught-inbetween time is having on me-- whether I'm feeling anxious and eager one day or exhausted and apathetic the next-- my calling is the same: to rest in Christ. When I'm tired from the journey and don't feel like I have enough in me to finish well, Jesus invites me to let go of my expectations for what "finishing well" actually looks like, and to just hold on to Him. In other words, in this season my resting in Christ means accepting that crossing the finish line of graduate school may feel more like the awkward last steps of a three-legged race than a photo-worthy Olympic sprint. And that's OK.  

And when I'm anxiously biting my fingernails and studying the horizon, desperate to know what's next and unable to concentrate on the present, Jesus invites me to chill and to trust Him. In other words, in this season resting in Christ means realizing that I have no control over the future anyway, and that worrying about it is only hurting myself. It means remembering that he got me this far, and he's not going anywhere, so I might as well just sit back and enjoy the ride. 

What season are you in right now? What would resting in Christ look like for you?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

I Too Was A Foreigner

This past week, my pastor preached on a story from the Gospel of Luke where Jesus heals ten lepers. All were cleansed by Jesus, and only one—a Samaritan— came back to thank Him. Jesus' response was, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” See, in Jesus’ world, ethnic demarcations were a big deal, in part because they represented an ancient concept called cultic purity; Samaritans were “unclean” and therefore not fit to enter the Temple, even if they were godly people. What’s more, Jews weren’t even supposed to touch Samaritans, lest they become “unclean” also. That Jesus healed a Samaritan at all might have been quite scandalous in this world, and the fact that this foreigner—who wasn’t even allowed to partake with the Jews in the privileges of worship—was the only one who came back to thank Jesus, is equally stunning.

My pastor asked us where we find ourselves in the story. As I listened, I realized, "I'm the foreigner," not because I'm more grateful than others, but because I too was once considered an outsider. I too was once cut off from the people of God-- not because of ethnicity, but because of sin-- but was brought near by Jesus anyway. What do I mean? the New Testament book of Hebrews reminds us that up until the time of Jesus, the Holy Place in the Temple (where God’s presence dwelt) was closed off even for Jews. Only the high priest could enter—and he once a year—to offer a sacrifice. This was because the sin that afflicted both Jew and Gentile made all “unclean,” barring the way to God’s presence. But Jesus, the spotless one, entered the Holy Place and offered Himself as a sacrifice, “once for all,” (Heb. 6:12) for our sins. He did it so that all could be cleansed; so that all could be “brought near,” (Eph. 2:13); so that all would no longer be called “foreigners,” but “sons and daughters” (Gal. 4:7). 

And so, like the foreigner in the Gospel account, my life has been changed my Jesus forever. And that is why I thank Him.  

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Few Words from My Husband

This year Michael and I both are blogging for our church as part of our internship there. I've been privileged to hear more of my husband's "voice" as he's worked to put his beautiful thoughts into words-- 400 words or less, to be exact-- and to learn from him in the process. Here's one he wrote that made me giggle, and made me ask some hard questions. What do you think?  

What We Truly Need 

I was recently remembering my high school years in all their *ahem* glory. I rolled into school on the first day, large glasses, butt-cut hair, not having lost all of my, let’s say, baby-fat yet. As I took in my surroundings, I quickly realized I couldn’t cut it as I was – I needed to be re-made. A year later, I stepped onto campus again, this time as a sophomore with contacts, gelled hair, and less, er, circumference. Success! A girlfriend! A year later, with the sting of a recently broken heart, I was a gym-going and much more stoic (mysterious?) junior.
The saga continued with many more cycles of brokenness and change. I was regularly pushed into the depths of my inability (to get a girl, to win the match, etc.). I was pushed to ask the question we as humans inevitably ask: “What do I need?”
But this question is by no means a recent development; we are and always have been needy! It would not have been inappropriate to ask this question in the Garden of Eden. The difference was that we never had any doubt as to the answer – what we need is the relationship we were made to have with our Creator and Father. But we pushed away from God and our God-given relationship with Him.
In Sunday’s Old Testament passage (Jeremiah 18:1-11), we see a potter working with a spoiled vessel to reshape it. In the same way that the potter does this “as it seems good for the potter to do” (v.4), so God does to Israel (v.6). Though Israel often thought they needed idols, God was patient and did not give up on them.
In Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 14:25-33), Jesus forces this same question: “What do I need?” He went right after one of the most common answers of the day:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters…he cannot be my disciple. (v. 26)
Family was everything. If you had no family, you had nobody to care for you when you were old, nobody to carry on your name, and no children to help you work your land. Without family, many thought of you as the walking dead. Accordingly, “family” was a culturally accepted answer to “What do I need?” Culture’s attachment to family was strong. Jesus’ response was equally strong; “hate.” This was radical! Honoring one’s father and mother (commandment 5) was important. Still, Jesus was God, before whom one should have no other gods (commandment 1), even family. So long as those who wished to follow Jesus gave preferential treatment to family, they were not giving it to Jesus, and could not be His disciple.
What do we give preferential treatment to? Without what would we consider ourselves among the “walking dead?” Christ has made us new and good vessels, but we still operate out of “spoiled” assumptions. How have we attempted to answer the question “What do I need?” In our darkest, most painful, love-spurned, or broken moments, have we tried to remake ourselves with things good and/or bad? I invite you to seek the original relationship we had in the Garden, having now been made into a new vessel. I invite you to ask God to help you see all things you turn to for identity and healing before Him. Only then will we identify with and be healed by an unshakable identity, one that will not go out of style, or be depleted, or let us down. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

"Girl, Interrupted" Interrupted

When I was a little girl, I thought my dad and older brother were, like, it. I remember taking gargantuan steps to try and walk in pace with them on a camping trip, and insisting that I was big and brave enough to join in on their adventures. I remember begging to get to tag along on a hunting or fishing trip, or even a trip to the mailbox. I remember believing that pigs could fly if I heard it from one of them, and believing that they knew--better than anyone-- what's cool, what I should like, what I want to be when I grow up, etc. 

The good news is I was blessed to have a dad and older brother who didn't abuse or ignore my hero worship. They noticed me, paid attention to me, and included me. The bad news is, my father's battle with cancer interrupted my relationship with both of them for various reasons. Four years of his illness separated our family for necessary reasons while my father was getting treatment, and after his death my brother needed some time away to process his own grief and loss. I was just a kid when all this happened, and lacked many of the emotional resources to handle the dramatic changes happening around me-- and within me!-- for basically the whole of my adolescent life. 

Now, you don't have to be a shrink to follow the line of reasoning that "teenage girl minus healthy male role models equals issues." In high school, I resented those kinds of formulas, but by half-way through college, I understood why they exist. As I began to examine some unhealthy patterns in my own life, I realized that in many ways, I was stuck in my eleven-year-old narrative of craving Dad's/Brother's approval, interest, notice of me. So every guy I met, whether peer or authority figure, was unknowingly picking up where my own family left off, so to speak-- where our story was interrupted. So something as small as someone not laughing at my joke or not picking me for a choir, just to name one example, felt like a devastating blow.

Fast forward to my life in Dallas, where I work and go to school in literally one of the most male-dominated environments I've ever seen. An interesting place for a girl with Daddy issues, the seminary is crawling with Dads and Brothers just waiting to not notice me, not pay attention to me, not accept me: a bit of a landmine, for lack of a better word. This work environment, if left to psychological formulas and interrupted stories, would only serve to reinforce the wounds from my childhood. I would continue to project onto others the experiences that shaped me, and continue to experience what I perceived at age fourteen as rejection, abandonment, and isolation.  

But the surprising beauty of the gospel is that God is not limited by psychology.  He is able to reinterpret even the most devastating aspects of our stories, so that wounds are acknowledged as real and evil but able to heal. For me personally, this has taken shape very specifically in my relationship to Dad and Brother types, in that I've been freed from the self-defeating narrative of "eleven-year-old girl, interrupted." Over the last three years, God used my work environment to expose ways that I was still letting those childhood wounds define me and my relationships, and showed me that it doesn't have to be that way-- that I don't have to experience every B- as rejection, for example, or every conversation I'm not a part of as a sign that I'm not wanted. In other words, I don't have to re-live the painful experiences of my adolescence over and over in every relationship I have with a man.

As I reflect on this theme in my story and the ways God has re-shaped it, I realize that this is a primary example of the how the gospel works. The good news of Christ's death and resurrection isn't just applied to my life abstractly, as an idea I accept or add to my mental stockpile of data. It is a reality that changes my own. Being a Christian means being united with Christ in such a way that the dead things in my own story are resurrected; that the personal losses that would otherwise shape the trajectory of my life are taken seriously enough to be dealt with-- even by death on a cross-- but then re-cast in a larger narrative that doesn't end until new life comes. Being a Christian means God enters my story in such a personal way that He takes it on Himself-- "He carried our sorrows and bore our grief," (Is. 54:3) but that He also invites me into His story in such a personal way that I share in the new life that is His-- "...just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." (Rom. 6:4)

One last beautiful-- and concrete!-- gift in all this: freedom from the old, broken narrative of "girl, interrupted" has freed me to actually enjoy the men around me. Instead of obsessing over their acceptance or acknowledgement of me, I've been learning to appreciate my class-mates, co-workers and professors for who they are as children of God. And guess what that makes them? My brothers in Christ. The beauty of this whole thing is that God placed me in a landmine and turned it into a family. He gave this orphan not just reminders of her loss, but one hundred-fold return on them. Now, instead of feeling fatherless or brotherless, I have a hundred new brothers and twenty new fathers. He has truly, and concretely, "restored the years the locust has eaten," (Joel 2:25) "turned my mourning into dancing," (Ps. 30:11) and "placed the lonely in a home." (Ps. 68:6) 

What wounds, losses, or painful memories shape your current experience? How might Jesus' death and resurrection bring new shape to them?