Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Heartbreak

Tonight, my heart breaks.

It's Christmas Eve. We celebrate a birth, a child come from Heaven to Earth. But too often in the midst of our celebration and beautiful lights, we forget the true circumstances of that birth.
We forget He was born in a stable. We forget He was born into a poor, poor family to an unwed, teenage mother. We forget He was born to an unknown people, in an unknown place. We forget Nazareth was the ghetto. We forget He was despised and rejected, we forget He did not have an appearance that attracted people, that infact He was despised and held in low esteem.

My heart breaks because Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy, peace, love. A time to remember, a time to celebrate, a time with family. And tonight countless families must go through this season without loved ones, because for many families this is the first Christmas without their babies. My heart breaks for the mothers, families and friends of ‪#‎MikeBrown‬,‪#‎EricGarner‬, ‪#‎TamirRice‬, ‪#‎AntonioMartin‬, ‪#‎AiyanaStanleyJones‬,‪ #‎TrayvonMartin‬ and so many others.
And my heart breaks because so many hearts are NOT breaking for these families. Because so many people are diverging the conversation from LIFE to excuses and reasons. He did this, she did that, the police were justified, it's because they didn't have a father-figure, if only they didn't grow up there, if this, if that. My heart breaks because people try to change‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬ to all lives matter, unable to understand that of course all lives matter and no one is denying that, yet our world says black lives don't matter, and we are saying yes, yes they do.

My heart breaks because the what happened, the "facts," the who, why, and how, are not, and cannot be, the prevailing conversation. My heart breaks because the Jesus whose birth we celebrate tomorrow came to earth and died to have victory over sin and death and fight for justice and mercy because love wins. And when we change the conversation to facts and justifications, we forget the true conversation must start at the reality that we are all human beings, we are equal in our humanity, we deserve love, justice, and equality, we deserve freedom. We should get to a point where we don't need #BlackLivesMatter because our world is finally acknowledging that all lives, colors and cultures are beautiful, equal, and loved.

My heart breaks because this season is about love, and yet tonight so many can do nothing but weep for the brothers, sisters, daughters, friends, fathers, uncles, mothers lost. And my heart breaks because instead of having compassion, feeling love, we try to say we're in a post-racism age, white privilege doesn't exist, and the cops were justified in shooting yet another black kid.

So maybe we can take a step back. Before fighting, debating, and shouting in hopes our opinion come out loudest, let's think before we speak. And before we speak let's try love. Let's try compassion. Let's try mercy. And let's try justice. And let's remember that the Jesus whose birth we celebrate came to break down an unjust system and fight for justice and mercy. Whether you believe He was the Son of God or not, you cannot deny His teachings are centered on love and justice. So let us love one another, because of the deep abiding love we ourselves rest in.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Prophecy of Protests

But Love 
hung on a tree
Bruised body, blood flowed
Love died so 
we could be free

Love didn't look at skin or color
Love didn't look at nationality,
Love look at souls
and said we're brothers
Blood flowed
for every nation, 
tribe and 

But we've forgotten. 

And now 
the prophets of the streets
crying like Pentecostal priests
Beating chests and
stomping feet
those choosing blindness
to see

See our pain
Feel our fury
Our righteous anger
against injustices you pretend 
can remain unseen

You were born with this freedom
to close your eyes
We were born into a world 
stabbing us from behind

So don't bring your Bibles,
shove your tracts 
drag us down aisles
You weren't here from the beginning
Fighting to break chain,
set captives free

"We have nothing to lose but our chains"

Our battle cry is freedom
equality for all
Jew and Gentile
Slave and free
Now the verses can read
Black and white
Upper class and lower
College educated, GED

You know, He's crying with us 
shouting, marching
Beating chest and
stomping feet

Don't think you're bringing Jesus to us
He's already here,
on the streets
Prophecy of protests
Righteous rage against
Jesus, the revolutionary

God with us
On the ground with us

Love doesn't look at
skin or color
And Love hung from
a tree

It is our duty to fight for our freedom
Love has already won the day

And we have nothing to lose but our chains
We will fight to lose our chains

- - - - -

                Ferguson has changed me. Broken me. Built me. My heart breaks again everyday, and the pieces are held together by the community around me. I do not yet know fully what Ferguson has done in my life, and we have yet to see the full extent of what it will do in our world. But I sense the world changing around me, paradigms are shifting, in my own life and all around me. I am beyond grateful to be part of this movement, and to those who have given themselves to fight for justice.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Justice and Jesus

Someone asked me what "got me into social justice work."

I didn't really know how to respond.

I told him nothing really "got me into social justice work," that I honestly couldn't pinpoint a time when suddenly justice work began to matter to me.  I can't imagine not caring.

I told him that I've always seen brokenness and longed for restoration. From a young age I found myself wanting to help people, the earliest I remember is being eight and wanting to adopt kids when I grew up. It was never a question, for me, of if I would help people, but rather who I would help. Because the reality is my heart is constantly in a state of brokenness.

My heart was breaking.
My heart is break

For me, Jesus and justice have never been separate. Loving Jesus and living out that love in acts of justice, compassion, kindness and mercy are utterly inseparable concepts.

I got lucky. I was raised in the church and had the unique joy of being raised by a family and in a community that practiced what it preached, looked around and reaching out to those in need.

For example. I remember when I was little, maybe 7 or 8, I had a friend named Dimesha. I honestly don't know how we knew her, or where she lived, but I know she was at our house a lot. She was like a sister to me. I think she lived with her grandma, and somehow we kinda adopted her. My mom homeschooled her along with the rest of us kids for a bit. She was always over to play, for holidays, birthdays. She belonged. As a kid, that was completely normal. I never questioned why she was there, why my parents would add yet another child to the many they already had, why they would care for a kid not their own, why she would become one of their own. Looking back, I can see how unique that was. Parents so willing to lay down comfort and normalcy to care for someone who just needed someone.

Justice and Jesus were never separate concepts. I was raised hearing about Jesus' love and seeing it lived out in the way my parents and my community cared for those around them.

So when my friend explained to me that most people involved in activism or social justice work have experienced some great injustice or oppression to propel them into justice-work, I had to respond that I didn't have a trigger point or a defining moment. I've simply always cared.

I honestly hesitate to say that because I feel like it's just me tooting my horn. But here's the thing. It's not. Because the reality is that Jesus and justice absolutely cannot be separated, and I've just been incredibly lucky that those never got separated for me.

The tragedy is that so many people do separate Jesus from justice-work, as if social movements and "sharing the Gospel" are separate actions.

See I think we've done a terribly thing in the world of Christianity by acting as if there is a difference between a "social Gospel" and one that you share with people on street corners and on airplanes that tells people they're a sinner in need of a savior.

The Gospel was never about praying a prayer that would save your soul from hell.

The Gospel is the good news of a God who cares so deeply for the oppressed that He died, conquered death, and rose victorious. The Gospel is about the Kingdom of God and restoring a broken world. And at some point we forgot that the Kingdom of God is here and now and that restoration isn't to be saved for some time far away with golden streets and angels floating on clouds. Restoration is for today.

And restoration is justice, mercy, compassion and grace.

The reality is, I shouldn't have to tell someone I'm a follower of Christ. My life should look so much like Jesus people don't even have to ask. Our lives should look so much like Jesus that people want to know Him.

And what does it look like to live like Jesus?

Justice, mercy, love, compassion and grace.

We are missing so much when Jesus gets boiled down to a few points and a pretty painted picture hung on a wall. We forget that actions speak louder than words, and that Jesus modeled that by caring for the poor. He came to heal the brokenhearted, set the oppressed free.

We, as people who say we follow Christ, cannot continue separating justice from Jesus. Justice is not something some are called to. If you believe in Christ, then you believe in a God who is heartbroken over injustice, who cares deeply for the poor and oppressed, who tells His people that true religion is caring for the poor and needy, for the widow and orphan in their need. If you believe in Jesus, you believe in a God who is restoring this broken world and that means binding up the brokenhearted, setting the oppressed free, releasing the captive.

We must stop asking if we will engage in a life of justice, but rather where God is leading us to live and give and who He is leading us to serve.

Justice and Jesus are inseparable, and that is why I have no moment of choosing to care about justice, other than the moment I chose to surrender my life to Christ.

- - - - - - - - 

I spent the past few weeks in Ferguson, MO, participating in non-violent protests about Mike Brown's death, the non-indictment of Darren Wilson, the mass incarceration of black and brown men in the US, and other systemic injustices. This experience has truly changed my life. As I just said, I've always cared about justice, my passion runs even deeper now. I'm processing the many things I have seen, the ways I've been challenged, the places I've grown. My faith and relationship with the Lord have grown and my eyes have been opened to seeing God as so much bigger than ever before. Over the next few weeks and months, I will be writing about this experience. Some of these writings will be more about what I've seen and more in regards to the issues regarding Mike Brown and this movement that has sprung from his tragic death, my experience in Ferguson, giving more information than the mainstream media gives, and such. I will also be writing about how this has challenged me and grown me as a person and in my faith. I'll share photographs, potentially some poetry, and the random ramblings of my 2:00AM brain (aka this post). Please engage with me, with questions, comments, concerns. I have been changed, I hope you will be too.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Tuna Fish Sandwich

Joanna sits at the corner of 17th and York near City Park. She's there almost every day, sitting in a chair with a cardboard sign reading "anything helps" propped up against her oxygen tank. She's in her 70s, with only half a heart and skin dark and leathery from sitting in the scorching Denver sun day after day.

She rarely smiles. If you stop to talk with her, she'll tell you about how her stomach hurts and she has heart problems, not because she ever did drugs or drank (she's very clear about that), but because of the way she grew up. She hasn't said what that means yet.

She sat there on the corner last Saturday. Someone rolled down their car window and gave her a dollar or two as I biked up. She didn't want anything to eat since she'd just had lunch at the church down the street. It was a good lunch, she said. Filled her up.

She just wanted the money, but I only had my debit card, so I asked if she needed anything else and I could go buy it for her. Food for later was an option. I asked what she wanted and she didn't really answer.

"Oh, really anything you want to get. I'll eat anything."

But she shouldn't have to eat just anything. So she finally said a tuna sandwich sounded nice. "Or fish, or anything really. Maybe from McDonald's. They're cheap."

They're cheap.

They're cheap.

Because apparently that's all she's worth. Cheap food.

"And some Coke or Pepsi or something. My stomach's really hurting and the carbonation helps."

Promising to return, I turned my bike around to hit up a nearby restaurant. She smiled a bit and said this was really nice of me.

Determined to find a tuna sandwich, Jimmy John's was the first place to meet my eye. They had tuna fish. The cashier and I chatted about the Rock 'n Roll marathon and how crazy he thought those runners were, and his other crazy co-worker who biked all the way to Denver from Iowa and doesn't own a car. Then I hit up 7 Eleven for a few sodas. Coke because Joanna asked and 7-Up because I've heard it's good for upset stomachs.

Biked back to Joanna's corner.

I handed her the 7 Eleven bag. I told her what was inside, the tuna fish from Jimmy John's and the sodas.

Her response will stay with me the rest of my life.

"Jimmy John's? But that's so expensive!"

 But that's so expensive.

That's so expensive.

Seven dollars.

It cost me seven dollars to buy a sandwich and some chips, and another three for the soda.

Ten dollars.

That's nothing.

Yet she was astounded that I would spend the money to buy her a decent sandwich. Something not fast food, something not "McDonald's, they're cheap." 

I told her she was worth it.

Joanna smiled. Really smiled. It lit up her dark, wrinkled face.

I'd never seen Joanna smile.

- - -

I planned to never share that story. I love to serve, it's a huge way I love people. The dark side is I also love to get a pat on the back, a "good job, you're such a great person," and be affirmed in what a great servant I am. My pride is a monster. Humility continues to evade me.

When I buy people food and stop to chat, I rarely talk about it because it's something I need to just do and keep between me, that individual, and God.

But I couldn't get over Joanna's response. Those words, that smile, they're seared in my mind and I have to share them.

There's a difference between pity and empathy. Charity and service. Obligation and love.

I read an article recently about a woman who was traveling to a country in Africa (I am racking my brain to remember which) to work with a non-profit there. A church asked if she had any more needs and she responded that one of the women running the non-profit in the country was in need of an iPhone to communicate and do business. The church put out a request for a used iPhone from the congregation. Someone donated an old (read: didn't work well and wasn't in good condition) one. The American woman ended up giving her iPhone to the African woman because the donated one simply wasn't going to cut it. When she arrived back in the US, the church that donated the phone asked the woman how it had worked for her African friend. She explained the situation. In response, the church gifted her a brand new iPhone because "she deserved it."

Why do we think the "poor" deserve used goods while we need things new and shiny?

Why do we donate old, stained, and ripped clothes to those in need, the things we are done wearing and don't want anymore?

Why are they only worth cheap McDonald's food?

Why do we act as though the "least of these" are only worth our least?

With what we give, we are unconsciously communicating that the individual is only worth our cheap, our discarded, our useless.

But aren't we all children of God? Aren't we all precious? Don't we all have immeasurable worth and value in the eyes of our Maker?

For God so loved the world. God has called all nations to Himself. He desires all people to be in relationship with Him.

Does this exclude the poor, the dirty, the bedraggled? The drunk, stoned-out-of-their-minds? The sick, the dying?

When you see people, anyone and everyone, homeless or filthy-rich, remember. Remember, they are loved by God.

They are loved.

Remember that.

I'm not saying you have to buy every single person you meet lunch from a five-star restaurant. All I'm saying is remember every human is valuable, and if you are going to give someone a lunch, maybe buy something a little better than the Dollar Menu. When your church does a clothing drive, maybe actually sacrifice a few clothing items that are nice instead of using it as a time to clean all the unwearables from your closet.

Find something you care about, and give to it. It can be a church, a missionary, a non-profit, an organization. But find a place to make a sacrifice to help restore a broken world. Find a place you can partner with your finances, your prayers, your time. Give. Because you've been given to.

And remember.

We all are worth at least a tuna fish sandwich from Jimmy John's. And reminding someone of that could make them finally smile.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Eyes on False Prizes and Learning to See

 "Keep your eyes on Me, Katy. 
Not the goal, or what you perceive it to be. 
Keep your eyes on Me, I am the goal."

God spoke those words to me in January. Running along a deserted sidewalk in the wee hours of the morning in Daytona, it was nearing the end of my time at New Staff Training for Cru and I was contemplating (read: becoming increasingly anxious about) raising my finances to work for the organization. The giant, impossible, daunting task ahead of me. So wrapped up in what I'd do to get through the process and reach the goal of being fully-funded and on-campus, I was rapidly losing sight of the Rock higher than I (Psalm 61:2).

This still rings one of my strongest temptations. Failing to remember He is the goal. Knowing Him, communing with Him. The relationship, being "fully known" (1 Corinthians 13:12), completely accepted, deeply cherished.

Knowing Him. Finding my identity completely at the foot of the cross. Being free because Grace hung on a tree and Love died for me. That's the goal. To be free in His love. 

I'm grateful for God teaching me lessons more than once, because I'm apparently a very slow learner. And this is something He has spoken to me again and again, "I want you to be free, Katy." And that freedom comes from His love. His love alone breaks the chains of darkness in our lives and conquers death in this world. 

Whenever I ask God, "What do you want from me?" His consistent response has been, "Your heart." 

Not my actions or dreams. Not what I do or what I say. Me. He just wants me! Not what I do, how much I serve, not how many people I tell about Him or how often my knees hit the floor and I kneel down to pray. 

Me. He just wants me. My heart is enough. 

And that just doesn't make sense to my black-and-white, give-and-take manner of thinking. 

If you were standing
at the foot of the tree
looking up at Me
You'd still be saying, 
"Come down,
I'm not worth it"
Because, my Katy
You're still trying to earn this
But it's grace
Grace beautiful and free
Grace hanging from a cross
Love bleeding on a tree
For thee

And so, too often, I keep my eyes fixed on the wrong goal, a false prize. But His grace is enough, and I'm learning to see with new eyes. Me. Enough. Not because of who I am, but because of what He's done. He is the goal, and my eyes must stay fixed on Him as I run His race. 

Knowing Him, and being fully known. That is the goal, and in that goal I find the freedom I so desperately seek. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Cardboard Sign

Cardboard doubles
as shredded sheets
"Spare a little change,
trying to make ends meet
Just seeking refuge
from the cold and sleet"

Well, the Savior didn't have a place
to lay His head
So maybe they're closer to Him
than I am

But people see the signs
All they do is stare
Wonder, what's he done
and where's she been?
I couldn't cast the stone
cuz my record ain't clean

No one gave me
the judgement rod
And you, sir, don't look like God
Driving by
rolling up your windows and
down your nose
"Probably for drugs,"
your judgments say
"Lazy bum will
squander it away"

As if you and I
never fail, please don't forget
we've just been given
a better circumstance,
missed some unfortunate
Do you squander love?
Waste your privilege?

We're all the same
Skin bones and blood
And I know I'm
begging for change
on the streets of human love
Forgetting I've been given grace
from the Divine
Covered by love that looks like
water blood and wine

Maybe my friend
the "homeless bum"
is really a bit closer
to the One

Monday, September 22, 2014

Drawing Lines in the Sand

Buzzfeed has some great articles. Funny, informative, a good way to waste time, you know how it goes. The articles are pop-culture, they are a good read on what culture is saying, opinions and perspectives, what is important to us and what messages are being passed around.

A most recent message, and trending hashtag/topic, is "things white girls do." I know it seems funny, and is meant to be lighthearted. It's satire and sarcasm...usually. Sometimes. But the reality of this hashtag is it simply puts up more walls, builds barriers meant to be broken. Barriers we say were broken years ago when slavery was "abolished" and segregation apparently just evaporated. But a generalization like "things white girls do" is segregation. It puts me as different from you. It makes assumptions. It excludes.

Many of these things white girls do or like include Starbucks, iPhones, eating junk food, wearing leggings and boots, Pumpkin Spice Lattes and such. This assumes all white girls own or care about or enjoy these things, and that no other gender or race does, unless they are "channeling their inner white girl." I did read that on a blog somewhere. Well, I don't love Starbucks more than my mother and I'd rather drink tea than something with more calories than a meal. I must not be white...or a girl.

This "white girl status" and "things white girls do" has got to stop. We can't reconcile when we're constantly drawing lines in the sand.

Reconcile? Wait. What? That got deep...we were just having fun. Making jokes. Stereotypes aren't racism because they're just generalities, right? When we meet someone for real, we'll get to know them instead of making assumptions. It's all fun and games, why are you making a big deal about this?

It's all fun and games, until someone gets hurt. And a lot of people have been hurt, for thousands of years people have been hurt. If you had the chance to change that, or at least lessen the pain, would you?

There's no easy fix to systematic racism, to gender inequality, to an I'm-better-than-you-because mentality. But if you could do something, would you?

It has to stop being about color and race. Why can't I like Starbucks because I just like Starbucks? Rap, dancing, anime, math, cars, beer, rice, running, sports, weightlifting, yoga, whatever, just because I like them?

We laugh about being PC. Too politically correct is scoffed at, because why are we trying to hard to make everyone happy? Why can't we all just lighten up? Forget the past, move on, you're being too sensitive. Or we use the excuse, "no one will hear." "It's just us guys." Or, "I wouldn't say that if a ______ person were here."

What you say in private is what you believe. And if what you say in public is different from the conversations you have in the safety of your home or innermost circles, then you're simply wearing a mask and displaying a facade. Speak words that anyone could hear and feel loved, accepted, unjudged and welcome. If you are making those jokes in private, it speaks clearly to the prejudice (and potentially unknown/defined racism, sexism, etc) residing in your heart.

(And as a side note, if everyone in your innermost circle looks, sounds, speaks, dresses and smells just like you...well that's a problem too. I once heard someone say that you only have to go so far as looking at the people around your dinner table to know if you live a life that is diverse).

My mom always taught me, "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." I firmly believe being politically correct is one of the most loving things I can do, or say. We have politically correct terms because someone was hurt by the other ones. And if someone was so hurt by those words, shouldn't I do everything in my power not to say them? Why for my own validation or "freedom of speech" should I say something I recognize could throw salt in a long-festering wound?

I have the legal freedom to say just about anything I please. And with that freedom I will choose not to speak if it will offend my brothers and my sisters.

And I believe that being politically correct is the most Christ-like thing I can do. No, Jesus didn't conform to the world, to the political or social structure of His day, but He loved the world. He met people where they were at. He called them by name, and I think that would include using the politically correct term. Saying "Indian" versus "Native American" or "American Indian" may not seem like a big deal. But that's because I haven't experienced the injustice and discrimination those of that race and background have suffered.

The reality is if we want to be part of reconciling our world, restoring the peace God intended, and reconciling race, gender and the like, then we have to make some sacrifices. We all have to make some sacrifices, no matter what race, gender or socioeconomic status you fall under. But the reality is if you are of the majority culture (white), then you are especially tasked with being part of the change. How can you truly love your neighbor as yourself?

Sacrifice means taking the time to listen to someone's personal experience, validate their story and seek to understand their perspective. No excuses, no "you're being too sensitive," just listen. It means being politically correct. It means not making certain jokes, I don't care if it's "all fun and games." It means not watching some TV shows or movies because of the messages being preached. It means thinking before speaking or Tweeting, and I mean really thinking.

It means living in a way that demands an explanation. Live differently. Because Someone lived to die so you could live fully and living fully includes loving endlessly those around us. 

A world restored and reconciled is no easy task. It's a world we will never fully experience because of the reality of sin and brokenness. But just because we can't have perfect peace until the end of the earth doesn't mean we shouldn't strive for it.

The entire Bible speaks of reconciliation. It's a deep desire of the Lord's heart. So deep He sacrificed His only Son to make a wretch His treasure. Jesus reconciled us to God. We could have no relationship with Him without Christ's blood making us clean. And we reflect that sacrifice by being reconciled to those around us. Being part of God's redemption of this world, the Kingdom here on earth. Loving your brother and your sister not because of who they are or what they've done, but because of who Jesus is and what He has done. Because we are all precious bits of clay, beautiful in the eyes of the Maker.

We all have infinite worth because we are children of the King.

Revelation 7:9 is one of the most beautiful passages in scripture. It brings tears to my eyes in hopeful anticipation of the promised perfect restoration of our world.

"After this I looked, 
and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, 
from every nation, tribe, people and language
standing before the throne and before the Lamb. 
They were wearing white robes 
and were holding palm branches in their hands."

Every nation. Every tribe. Every people. Every language. Standing before the throne. Oh, the beauty of this vision. All together as one, worshiping the King. Because it isn't about the color of your skin, what scars and stories you bear, the talents you posses, the gifts that you bring. It's about His skin being torn and pieced, bruised and bloodied for our sins. The sins we all bring. His love makes us one. A great multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language before the throne of grace. And that is a beautiful picture of a day far off, but it can also be a vision for today. 

So let us all be part of that vision, every nation, tribe and tongue. Seek to listen, learn and love, just like a certain Savior does for us.

Dance with the Divine

Whispered beckons 

Arms held wide

an invitation

Join the dance

Heart filled of wonder at
love without restraint 
Calling softly
I long to dance
with you

A dance with the Creator,
with the Divine

More glory
can never be imagined than
what's found in the
of release

Creator beckons
the created, 
join the dance

Because there's power
in the blood
And your hands have been washed clean
So come take hold of Mine
that were nailed
to a tree
For thee

To dance with the Creator,
with the Divine

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Shadows and Scriptures

The world isn't easy. Life is often dark and dingy. It looks pretty good until the sun shines in, illuminating the dust filling the room. It's a mess.

The Ukraine and Russia. The Middle East. Ferguson, Missouri, the homeless on my street, and my heart skips a beat. You can't escape the brokenness. The world's fallen and down to my own problems that now seem so small, and sometimes it's overwhelming, I'm suffocating in the messiness of it all. Crying, where and why.

I am comforted that we are not alone in the valley of the shadow of death. But I wonder, too, why is there a darkest valley? Why must the world be covered in shadow and grief?

Why does a good God allow a dark valley. It just doesn't seem fair.

And it my own little world, where my small problems seem so big, I wonder why it doesn't get better. When I spend time every day in prayer or reading the Bible, pouring through blog posts and theological books, why do I often feel alone? Why do I find myself struggling for joy, when it used to be bright world I lived in and now often feels like a window I only get to glance through, taste the light for a moment before the blinds are shut.

But I'm praying. I'm reading Scripture each day. I'm doing all the right things, so why don't I get the results I want?

A few weeks ago I journaled,

"I feel like I'm being broken so I can be built up. Life just feels infinitely harder recently. I'm struggling to find my identity in Christ, to be filled with joy and thankfulness, to live changed by the Cross. Yet I'm praying, reading scripture, having a quiet time...and often God feels far away or He's there and we're talking, but I still feel like I'm sinking and I don't know why He won't pull me out. I feel like He's just talking to me, not acting. I need rescue. Even though sometimes I resist it. I need Him to rescue me even on the days when I think I don't want Him to. But maybe that's the process. Growth is painful and humility takes work and I'm being torn down to be rebuilt. If beauty comes from ashes maybe I still need to burn. And I feel like that's something God is speaking to me as I asked why He wasn't just helping me and why life feels so hard and His love so difficult to grasp. And He said, "I am." In the sense that He has to break me first...Maybe I need this season of feeling incapable of joy and fulfillment in Christ to realize how much I can't do it myself. I guess what it comes down to is that I've asked Him to make me His, totally free and fulfilled in His love, no matter what it would take to get me there. And I said I knew it would be hard and painful, but I want to be brought to my knees before Him. My everything must be rooted in Him and I need His help to get me there. It feels like I'm doing a lot on my own right now, and maybe that's part of the process. I don't know why He would make me do this alone right now. Maybe it's to help me really, truly see that I cannot do this life on my own and I really do very desperately need His grace to cover my sins, His strength to cover my weakness. He is Lord. He must be Lord. And I can't pick and choose what and when I surrender, I have to surrender it all."

There ya go, my dose of vulnerability for the week, a peek into the scribbled pages of my soul.

A few days later, rather arbitrarily, I decided to read through Lamentations. There's a passage I've always loved and I wanted to read through it again,

"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end; 
 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness. 
 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”

It's one of those nice, feel-good verses where you highlight just that one part and forget about what's before and what comes after. At least that's how I'm tempted to read my Bible. Find the pretty passages that sound nice on a pillow and forget about the mess of sin. 

So this time I payed a bit more attention to the whole passage. This is a bit of Lamentations 3. It's long, so I won't copy it all here, but I strongly encourage you to read the entire passage.

I am the man who has seen affliction
    under the rod of his wrath;
he has driven and brought me
    into darkness without any light;
surely against me he turns his hand
    again and again the whole day long.

though I call and cry for help,
    he shuts out my prayer; 

17 my soul is bereft of peace;
    I have forgotten what happiness[a] is;
18 so I say, “My endurance has perished;
    so has my hope from the Lord.”

21 But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;[b]
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”
25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul who seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.
28 Let him sit alone in silence
    when it is laid on him;
29 let him put his mouth in the dust—
    there may yet be hope;
31 For the Lord will not
    cast off forever,
32 but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion
    according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
33 for he does not afflict from his heart
    or grieve the children of men.

Who has spoken and it came to pass,
    unless the Lord has commanded it?
38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
    that good and bad come?
39 Why should a living man complain,
    a man, about the punishment of his sins?
40 Let us test and examine our ways,
    and return to the Lord!

44 you have wrapped yourself with a cloud
    so that no prayer can pass through.
45 You have made us scum and garbage
    among the peoples.

“I called on your name, O Lord,
    from the depths of the pit;
56 you heard my plea, ‘Do not close
    your ear to my cry for help!’
57 You came near when I called on you;
    you said, ‘Do not fear!’
58 “You have taken up my cause, O Lord;
    you have redeemed my life.

I'm not sure who wrote Lamentations, but he clearly experienced intense grief, torment, pain, loneliness. He sought the Lord and did not hear from Him. It says God shut out the prophet's prayers. He lacked peace, he forgot what happiness was. Yet in spite of all this, he finds hope in the Lord's steadfast love. Despite feeling alone, and knowing that might never end, the Lord's goodness and mercy never ceased. His faithfulness still great. 

The nice feel-good passage about God's love and faithfulness is preceded by the prophet being alone, even losing hope in God. Then he remembers and calls to mind the greatness of God. And yet still after this, acknowledges there are times of great suffering, loneliness when it seems God has turned His back and is simply silent. 

So what is our job? Is it to just read the nice passages you can hang on your wall and cross-stitch onto a pillow to give away at a wedding? Or is it to seek God, regardless of circumstance. 

The prophet talks about how he has been mangled and attacked, without rescue or comfort or help from the Lord. His prayers have gone unanswered, he has been shut out. Yet the prophet still finds hope, because of the unfailing truth of who God is and because of a trust in a bigger picture. It's easy to "trust" God when times are easy, but hardships, times of silence, that determines true faith and trust. 

God isn't good when my life feels nice. God is good because God is good. Regardless of what my life looks like, my God is great, faithful, enduring in love and steadfast in mercy. 

My job is to call that to mind. To find hope in His unfailing mercy. Not because I feel it. Not because I'm constantly joyful. Not because  I have the job and the car and the house. But because His steadfast love says, "do not fear." For He has taken up my cause. He has redeemed my life. No matter what my life looks like, it is redeemed. And in that truth I will stake my ground. I will find my hope and salvation in the Rock that is higher than I.

Monday, July 28, 2014

For Joy

Joy. It often seems so elusive. Deeper than happiness, harder to obtain, but absolutely transformational if captured.

If it can even be captured.

Where do we find this thing, this joy that wraps itself around our lives. It doesn't stop the arrows life is often shooting in our direction, but it changes your response to them. But where do we find it? Because if the world is broken and messy and the arrows are sharp, the last thing I can do is just be happy. Where do we find joy in sadness, glory in pain?

Today I met a man named Dale. He broke my heart. He lives in a hotel on the meager provision of his disability checks and the money people hand him from their car window as they drive by his corner. His legs were amputated due to a flesh eating disease he got while fixing up an elderly woman's house for free. Where's the justice in that? He said some people are nice. But not all. He said people throw things at him sometimes.

How do I find joy knowing there is so much suffering? How does he find joy sitting in his wheelchair in the hot sun with a cardboard sign day after day? Because these moments aren't happy. I can't smile and make it all okay.

But then this morning I went for a bike ride and I just felt so light as I spun through a green park with the wind on my face, so filled with something far greater than happiness. A taste of what it means to truly be free. How can I have both emotions in one day, heartbreak rolling down my cheeks and a giddy glee that makes my heart sing?

It must be more than circumstances, this elusive thing called joy. It must be something that marks my life in the good and the bad, something deeper and stronger than a tear or a smile. 

I read this the other day, "God is using this season to say, 'Am I your joy?' John 15 talks about how following Him is really for His glory and our joy. The word joy really struck me, and I thought, I can't get that manufactured in other places, it needs to come from Him. Time with friends is good, and working out is good, and time with  my husband is good, but I have to find my joy in Him."

It has to come from Him.

Joy is this beautiful, pure, untarnished thing that can only be found in the Lord. "The joy of the Lord is our strength." It doesn't make the painful moments less painful, but it gives them more meaning. Because there is something greater, there is something deeper, there is something more glorious than this moment, this trial, this pain, this question.

Joy cannot be something that I experience when life is going my way. Happiness is an emotion, coming and going as the world ebbs and flows. Joy is the thing that changes the way you see the ebb and flow of life. It doesn't change with the seasons, it is the son always in the sky.

If God is not my joy, then I have no joy. For it is only found in the Lord. It's His love that promises to one day make everything right. It's me knowing that as I cry over the broken life of Dale, His tears flow too. Joy comes from me knowing that God's heart breaks for this messy world, and that He has already begun to make it right. He died to make it right. It hasn't been perfected yet, but it will. Oh it will. And in that I find joy, in the pain, in the smiles, in the anger, in the laughter, in the hurt, in the questions, there is joy.

"Am I your joy?"

This I must ask myself each day, as I seek and strive for a relationship with Jesus that is so changed by His love I can find joy every moment, no matter the season.