Saturday, February 19, 2011

On the family of God

Yesterday a couple came into the computer store where I work with some questions. It was with relief that I answered them, it was an Apple thing, yessss, I actually did know the answers! As I talked with them about educational pricing and specs, the husband pointed at the cross necklace I was sporting. "I have one of those," he indicated it, and then gestured to his wife. "She got it for me."

"Yes," she affirmed, "I picked it up when I was at a women's retreat in Florida." Excitedly I asked her about the retreat, and the conversation rolled quite far away from laptops and iPads and focused instead on their work with the Christian hispanic community in Rhode Island and their new church. I was geeking out, grinning to hear of the unity of the church and the work God was doing in Providence. I couldn't stop smiling after they left, and one of my coworkers turned to me all puzzled wondering, "Did you know them? What was that all about?"

And I love that! I love that it's so weird to see a couple of strangers, people who have never met and maybe have nothing else in common except Jesus, finding joy in each other's company. I love that I can call people I've never met my brothers and sisters, and when I do meet them, I love that I can greet them as such. And I love that that's so crazy to people outside this community! Testimony is a wondrous thing.

Today I went to an evangelism workshop through Intervarsity at my friend's school. After a hazardous drive through Olneyville, I arrived precisely on time and walked into a room full of people I didn't know. Which was weird because I was expecting to know a lot people, but, no cigar. I sat down with strangers and the connection was comfortable. We talked about Jesus and our Intervarsity groups and our schools. We talked about the work God was doing, and it was exciting, and encouraging. I sat at a table where I didn't know a soul, and I didn't melt under a torrent of social anxiety. Because this was my family, even though I'd never met any of them before.

I ended up being paired with one of the leaders from Brown University for a few of the roleplaying exercises, which stressed me out because I hate roleplaying [it was actually really useful] and because the leaders just seem super-spiritual and generally more mature. It's intimidating. But as I stumbled my way through "invitation simulations" and circle diagrams, he was smiled and nodding and excitedly flipping through his Bible. He wrote down my name and my friends' names in his little softcover Moleskine and promised to pray. In a few brief and awkward conversations, I was so blessed by this guy who gave me the gift of encouragement, I can scarcely verbalize.

Every chance, every chance we get with a fellow believer, we must be building each other up. There are men in suits who visit my school every so often. They stand on the sidewalks and pass out tracts or Gideon Bibles. One of them handed me a pamphlet once; I smiled, thanked him, but I was late to class, I didn't stop. I should have, I should have stopped and prayed with him, should have told him that God is moving at URI, and I should have thanked him for his faithful service. Because that's what it means to be part of this community. Though we are strangers we are duty-bound to encourage, to be united in the Spirit.

I stood later in a circle with a friend from church, a friend from homeschooling, and a friend from school, our heads bowed as we prayed for a girl named Crystal. And it was so trippy, that one of my friends didn't know this girl, and yet he prayed fervently, sincerely for her. And it was so weird, how these friends didn't know each other, and yet here they were gathered together, vulnerably united.

This community is like a drug. It fills you up and flows right through you, and leaves you desperately thirsty for more and more. It doesn't matter who or how you meet, you have the deepest and most important thing in common. We are sisters and brothers, we build up the family of God, we are united to people we've never met. For all that is sick and wrong and upside-down in this church of broken people trying to follow Jesus, there is also a resilient good, only by God's grace, in that He has brought us together in love.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

More love, more power, more of You in my life

I'm thinking of Bethany. At least, I think that was her name, she came with her brother to my school last fall, they held signs on the quad and tried to talk to people about Jesus. She accused me of following the ways of the world; she said I had bought into the lie that I needed to go to college, and that this was purely self-serving. My conversation with her challenged me to learn Scripture better, and reaffirmed for me my dedication to serving my campus in Jesus's name, but now I'm wondering again . . .

It's almost as though there is an invisible line. Either you are a radical or you are not. Either you are imbued with purpose or you are living after a lie. You are either sold out and on fire, or you're complacent and lukewarm. I'm picturing hundreds of thousands of legitimately God-fearing people who have been swindled by a picture of the gospel that is underachieving. There has been a call for the church to rise out of its anemia into a true and passionate rededication to

But I wonder if this fervor isn't itself a kind of lie. A false dichotomy. I watched this video by Eric Ludy, and I wondered if it was really God's plan for the Western church to invade Africa and give every orphan a family. Maybe I'm the one with the false dichotomy.

It's just that, I worry if I'm deluding myself with my weekend outreach and my handful of Bible studies and my tortured forays into spiritual understanding. I have heard over and over that the Gospel is revolutionary, it is unsafe, it is crazy. But I live in a world that is more ordered than that. I'm no John the Baptist. There's nothing counter-cultural about shouting the name of Jesus from a street-corner . . . it's just weird. My version of "living for Him", though challenging for me, seems too tame compared to the rhetoric of the greats. I'm thinking of what I read in Crazy Love this week: "I think sometimes we assume that if we are nice, people will know that we are Christians and want to know more about Jesus. But it really does work that way. I know a lot of people who don't know Christ and are really nice people. There has to be more to our faith than friendliness, politeness, and even kindness."

I'm almost desperate to become a missionary, to be neck-deep in ministry so that I never run the risk of losing sight of the Kingdom. Though, I mean, of course we always run that risk, no matter where we are. It's the human condition, inescapable. Which is why God fortifies us to be vigilant.

But still! If it's that difficult to keep my heart on God's work in some such missions scenario, how much more difficult is it to fight the temptation of "adequacy" when I am in my comfortable middle class existence.

I don't even know what it is I am confused about anymore.

It is not that I think my world is perfect, it is that I am content to face the problems of my world, and not the problems of THE world. Oh God, my God, what is it You want from me?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

"You hanging in there?"

I may have mentioned before, I'm not so good with needles. I cried last time I got my flu shot [I was all alone in a giant auditorium and my arm felt weird, okay?!], I was a nervous wreck last time I had blood-work done, and I can't even watch commercials for those finger-pricking devices diabetics use. It's not an uncommon fear, but it's definitely earned me a high-earning office in Pansyville. I'm not big into conquering fear, I'm pretty content with letting it fester, because I figure, so long as a fear is rational, it is also healthy! Which is a philosophy that works pretty well for me [I am still alive, right?], except when it conflicts with my other philosophies. Or more specifically, when my fear of needles keeps me from following through on my commitment to organ donation and sacrificing myself. [Ew, literally?]

I was talking with Justin about this on Sunday. He was telling me how he gives blood every six weeks, and I was feeling hypocritical because I was realizing that despite calling myself an organ donor advocate, I have no intention of ever giving blood ever. My school holds a blood drive every six weeks. Predictably. And for the first semester, I was fine, because during the hours of the blood drive I always had classes or work, and I told myself that I'd be all over that, but I didn't have the time. It was a convenient salve for my guilt. This semester, however, I didn't have that excuse. Nope, my schedule was wide open. Not sure how that even happened. May have to fix that for the future.

So when my phone became un-lost [THAT was an enlightening experience, by the way] I got a text from Justin, who now goes to my school. He told me, hah, yay! that it was blood drive time up at the student center!

And I really don't know what made me do it.

I walked into the student center, turned down the hall . . . I think I told myself I was just going to check things out, to see if it was really there, since I was nominally curious about where all this blood-draining took place. [It's a big building.] I turned the corner and a friendly woman at the table smiled at me with a, "Here for the blood drive? Through those doors!" Before I knew it I was drinking a bottle of water and handing over my driver's license. What was going on?! My stomach started turning as I was filling out the questionnaire . . . no, I did not have a prion disease -- I THINK! The sheet they gave me on the risks of donating blood didn't allay my fears, neither did the prospect of a one-on-one interview to determine if I was qualified to give blood. The whole process was a lot more intense than I had realized.

When I sat down for the interview, I caught a glance at the finger-prickers. And I started full-out shaking. How the heck had I wound up in this chair, about to allow some strangers to pump my life-blood into a plastic baggy?! Her name was Jill, she pricked my finger, and tried to coax out enough blood for the iron test. [Good news: my blood clots excellently, and I'm not iron deficient! Who knew!] I can't scroll on my laptop's touchpad anymore. Should have had her prick my left hand.

Against all hope, I was cleared for donation, and made my way to the climax. I was careful not to watch any of the process. I didn't watch her feel for a vein, I didn't watch her swab the site, I didn't even catch a glimpse of the roll they gave me to "gently squeeze every ten seconds." I just tried to keep blinking away the threat of tears and focused on hiding how petrified and uncomfortable I was. The weirdest part was how the tube was looped around my arm, and I could feel how warm it was. Of course, Jill was there, watching me with a frown on her face. "Did you hydrate today?" Nope, I didn't know I was supposed to! "You're going really slowly . . ." She taped and re-taped the needle, angling my arm, fiddled with the blood pressure cuff while I stared at the ceiling and prayed, "God, speed up my blood!" Something I never thought I'd pray.

Mercifully, it eventually ended. My arm is strangely sore, it's possible I have a bruise under this ridiculous bandage, but afterwards I got to sit and drink cranberry juice and watch The Incredibles. Which is kind of an okay movie.

It was a traumatizing experience. But I survived! Fears faced, God is good. And you know what this means? . . . I have to give blood every six weeks now for the rest of my life.

Sometimes I think philosophical consistency is so overrated!

Friday, February 4, 2011


I have been so loved. I'm thinking of college, specifically, though this being loved thing is definitely an unusual trend of my life's trajectory. It's one of those crazy illustrious blessings. [Though, I'm hearing Francis Chan in my head: blessings are for outpouring, not parroting thank yous.] Anyway, at college I have been shown much mercy. It's so very painful. Being a commuter. When I feel like pitying myself I think of how I have no friends there, mostly because I'm awkward and antisocial.

I'm not, though. I made friends with the security guard just fine today, I had a nice chat with the girl next to me in linguistics class; it's not strangers I have a problem with, it's acquaintances.

I have been loved at college, though. People, strangers, non-Christians have reached out to me, and I have remained stand-offish from uncertainty. I just have to repeat to myself, "They're people, Hayley. Treat them like people." I put so much pressure on these interactions. Like, oh no, he's going to think I'm hitting on him, or, she's going to think I'm too clingy and desperate for a friend. I analyze each encounter's potential to develop in friendship, and hold my breath until I feel as though I can let the relationship alone, as though once built it requires no maintenance.

I treat relationships like they're minefields and one false step is going to blow everything up. So to protect everything, I do nothing. Which is much, much worse. I find myself unable to respond to acts of mercy. Investing in my coworkers. Smiling at classmates. Hanging out. I'm really bad at that, hanging up. Too much TV, I think. See, I've always had a problem with initiation, but now I've regressed in reciprocation as well. I am content to soak up attention, but slow to give it. Because I am selfish and scared.

I know you have felt much more love than you've shown.

This is the battle! How can I love as much as I have been loved?

Simply to the cross I cling . . .

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

On being out-Christian'd

In biology class today I learned some pretty interesting things. Like 80% of the world's species are insects. And that ants haven't evolved in over 250 million years [cough] because they're already perfect. That the equilibrium of the world would be wrecked if bugs ceased to exist. The professor explained how marvelous nature was, he waxed enthusiastically about this incredible cosmos that we try and box out, he was passionate. For nature.

And he doesn't even know the One who made it.

I felt pretty shamed. I mean, I like nature. I like going for walks and playing outside and learning about creation. But I don't get stoked like my biology professor does. I look out the window and see the snowflakes and the ice patches and the evergreen trees and the cloudy sky, and I don't geek out. My appreciation is idle, I have not fully learned to marvel. And yet, how much more stunning is this world when we know the hands of its Creator?

After biology class I managed to drag myself through the cold back to the parking lot, where I was met with the sight of my brown 1999 Nissan Altima behind another brown 1999 Nissan Altima [this time I knew which was which] entirely encased with ice. After prying the door open and cranking the defroster, I set to work with the ice scraper. And was met with serious resistance. It was funny at first, how much ice there was covering my car, but it was so thick the scraper wasn't getting it off, and I considered just letting my car idle the whole night long. I grinned at Bryna: "At least I'm not the only person in this whole parking lot with the same problem!"

And in a moment, three people appeared armed with ice scrapers. "Want some help?" -- "Yes PLEASE!" They must have regretted it the moment they set to work, seeing how impossibly thick the ice was, but they worked alongside me without gloves, until each window had a respectably big opening through which to see. Bryna asked the girl why they were doing this: "You know, it just sucks to see one person trying to scrap off their entire car all by themselves." And when they walked away I was floored. People that nice really ought to be Christians.

You know? I am made so ashamed by these wonderful people! People who don't know my God and still manage to adore his creation, and help others. What am I messing around for? There is a righteous life to be lived.

Parenthetically, today I also learned about the botfly. So that's pretty interesting. Slash gross.