Friday, July 19, 2013


I am so excited. Is there a better word? There must be a better word. Why, oh language, is it that I have not mastered you to explain this effervescent anticipation frothing inside of me?! This is it, this is lift-off, this is the beginning! The idea is becoming reality. The rubber is meeting the road. I'm really going! And this makes me feel just giddy, that this is really happening and that I would be so privileged. I find myself asking over and over, is this real life?

So I'm leaving for a month of training, and then in August catching a flight to Kazakhstan. My church supports a worker who got his start on the field through the very same agency and the very same language school through which I'm headed out. Because he has already walked this same path he has been a source of invaluable information and cheering encouragement. He wrote me this week, "Try to see what God is doing in you as you prepare to go, since this is part of your training, and not just a means to an end."

This is why I chose to be with Ignite Serves Providence the week before leaving. When I woke up Monday morning and frantically packed a bag, it didn't feel like a good decision. I left the house panicked about how much still was left to be done and overwhelmed by the idea of exhausting my stores of enthusiasm and perseverance during the week's heat wave. Surely this was too careless a preparation for stepping blindly into something I've never done before. But some time after we had finished washing the dust out of our living quarters, maybe just as we were met with effusive thanks from the men staying at The Urban League, something inside me clicked into alignment. I remembered.

It floods my heart with all kinds of warm fuzzies when I think about the privilege it is to serve and to share. To hug little girls and prove Jesus loves them by loving them oneself. To listen to a homeless man's life story and offer hope for the future with a cold soda and hot meal. To approach strangers and ask them the hard but humble questions about how they came to believe what they believe. And the students! To work alongside brothers and sisters who are growing in love right before your eyes! To watch them face their fears, risk their comfort, push through fatigue, and work so hard . . . I can take no credit for the understanding unfolding in their hearts, but I am proud, so proud, of how they have sought Jesus in this work.

Passing out water in Kennedy Plaza during the heat wave.

And what better send-off could I have asked for? A reminder in my own backyard of why I'm going half-way across the world. A model for how God wants to move through us to love and reach other.

I've been haunted all week by this quotation from Perelandra, "In all these other matters what you call obeying Him is but doing what seems good in your eyes also. Is love content with that? You do them, indeed, because they are His will, but not only because they are His will. Where can you taste the joy of obeying unless he bids you do something for which His bidding is the only reason?" A girl so guarded, so skeptical, so preoccupied with analysis and pro/con lists, how will she learn to obey by doing simply what He asks? Answer, practice. And it is an unfathomed privilege to be starting this adventure. 

Last week I was looking back, mourning the interruption of the community I hold so dear. This week I am looking forward, anticipating the faithfulness of a God who would work through me, and will teach me to do His will.

Saturday, July 13, 2013


I guess no one really loves good-byes, and me, yeah, I hate 'em. And now I'm coming full force with their obtrusive reality as my departure ticks steadily closer. I am, to say the least, emotionally overwhelmed.

I've been trying to write about this for weeks, but I can't seem to force the words out. Another reason to hate good-byes. What is there to say, really? That I feel oxygen-deprived when I think of the experiences I won't share or the conversations I won't have or the people I won't see? That I feel a tightness in my chest when I think of the relational distance my physical distance will breed? That I feel like throwing up when I think of verbalizing the love I've felt?

Nope. It's no big deal. I won't see you for a while. So it goes. 

Truthfully, I'm grieving. I know I can trust this misty future to a God who is infinite in faithfulness and goodness. No, it is not the uncharted water of new beginning that terrifies me. Instead it's the heart-rending end of so much I have held so dear. The end of after-school Ultimate games at Pine Hill Farm, the end of LOST marathons with Sarah, the end of Sunday morning giggle fests with the junior high girls, the end of weekend movie nights, the end of long drives home in the middle of the night, the end of the comfortable (oh, but numbing) routine I've carved for myself. 

I am being dramatic, I know. A year away does not alter the fabric of my life. It is very possible, or even likely, that the things I leave will still be there when I get back. I'm young, but I've lived long enough to at least start to suspect that change is slow and subtle, not swift and severing. And that's yet another reason to hate good-byes: they imply a permanence that is not reality. Why must we bother with the farewells when most partings are really see-you-laters? If this is not the end, why do I have to get all worked up about it? 

Because closure. Because punctuation. Because people deserve to know what they have meant to me. And I had better find some way to tell them. Just in case.

Friday, July 5, 2013

1 Corinthians 13:12

One of my least favorite days of the year, Independence Day, has of late turned my favorite. There's something about wandering between brownstones, laying in the grass, eating from food trucks, sweating unholy amounts, talking and playing games with precious people, cramming into subway cars, and watching the most magnificently beautiful fireworks the modern world can conjure. A new family tradition has brought me so much joy. "This is my favorite part!" I would announce periodically, as though I had zero concept of the exclusionary implications of the term 'favorite.'

But standing on the subway platform waiting to switch trains, a horrifying thought dawned in the back of my mind and rose into my outlook. I was not jubilant, I was not miserable, I was not anxious, I was not content. I just was. Which meant that something had to be wrong!

Surely there was something to feel guilty about: things I ought not to have said, things I ought to have planned better, thoughts I should have swept away, thoughts I should have brought to mind. There were so many things to be stressed out about: fundraising and follow-up phone calls, packing and medical arrangements, the van's screwy transmission and empty gas tank. I gazed down the empty platform, wiped the sweat off the back of my neck, and wondered, "What on earth is wrong with me?Why do I feel so normal?"

So I took a moment to remind myself that sometimes it's okay to just be.

In my obsession with mindful living and in the throes of my right desire to be each day more like Jesus, I get a little carried away sometimes. I drink in the high highs and wallow in the low lows because I mistake the extremes for poignancy. As though there were something particularly profound about irrational happiness or erratic despair. I somehow came to believe that if I was neither euphoric with the satisfaction of living rightly nor despondent from the conviction of my shortcomings then I was doing something wrong.

And it's true, that the choice between life and death is always before us. It's true that each day carries a million different reasons to be glad and a million different reasons to grieve. Certainly Independence Day shows this, in the multimillion dollar pyrotechnics contrasted with the exploited homeless jingling change, in the triumphant #BOSTONSTRONG banners contrasted with the makeshift marathon memorial, in the unity celebrated from the loudspeaker contrasted with selfish disregard for others on the ground. I find much meaning in these highs and in these lows.

But not everything is an existential crisis.

There is no need to despair when the meaning can't be found. It is good to live with care to the consequences of my values, attitudes, and beliefs, but it is also good to stand on subway platform and just be there. To laugh with friends, and to take a walk, and to get on the train and go where you're going. I am finite, and I will not catch every shred of meaning in every experience. I will not even come close. John Tagliabue wrote once, "The ordinary blankness of little dramatic consciousness is good for the health sometimes." And I think that may be true.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Cheer up, church

I was watching Friends and Monica was talking about some horrifying thing Chandler did, and Rachel remarks, "I always knew there was something weird about that dude. But you promised to love him no matter what." And the laugh track signals to us the absurdity of a committed love; this is why dating exists! So we can vet out people's flaws before we decide to spend our lives alongside them! We know no one's perfect, but we try and get pretty close. We seek out people who are stable, well-adjusted, good communicators, even-tempered, whatever. We have a concept that healthy exists, and we're trying to get to that state.

But the wonderful and infuriating thing about grace and our God who gives it is that we don't have to be perfect.

Just like spouses learn to love each other through financial hardships and emotional trauma and annoying pet peeves, God is faithful to us, freely giving us a love we're not worthy of. Sticking by us despite our dysfunction.

And I've been thinking about what this kind of love and grace looks like not just on an individual scale in my own corrupt heart, but on a corporate level. Oh Church, dear bride of Christ. Are we not the height of dysfunction?

We get down on the Church all the time. Particularly in the west (though I don't doubt dysfunction is a global and even universal thing), where our culture is so markedly incompatible with the teachings of Jesus, it's like our favorite pastime to criticize the body. And granted, we've got lots of problems. We're diseased with consumerism and universalism and bigotry and a pathological lack of unity. There're volumes that could be (and have been) written about the Church's shortcomings. And there's absolutely a place for self-examination.

But I've been thinking lately about cutting the Church some slack. How can I expect from a body of believers what I have not mastered myself?

Charlie Peacock has a great song about this: the Church is so much worse off than we think. There is so much we've gotten wrong. So many mistakes we've made. So many utter failures. (Aren't you tired of hearing about the Crusades yet?!) But still, the more the understanding of our sin grows, the greater our appreciation of His grace swells. The Church is sick, because it is made up of people who need the Great Physician. And if you stop right there the story's pretty bleak, because just like no betrothed would blithely walk into a marriage to a violent alcoholic, why would someone sign up to join a leper colony of fellow corrupted sinners? If we have a concept of what holy is and a desire to get there, why do we get mixed up in church at all?

Because the story doesn't end with the Church's incomprehensible inadequacy.

There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. [Romans 8:1-2]

This grace is real in my life. This is what's changing me and shaping me and it's within this context that self-examination is so sanctifying. I am flawed, yet He loves me. I am stubborn and lazy and fearful, yet He loves me. I am dysfunctional, yet He loves me. And oh dysfunctional Church. He loves His bride in the very same way. Is not that grace astonishing?

So when I hear church horror stories or watch videos like this one, when I sit in my own church and feel the judgment coil in my stomach, I hum it to myself, "Don't despair, grace is near. It's just like God to choose the loser, not the winner." Cheer up. The sins of the Church have been forgiven. There's no space for cynicism here. Let the full force of our need grow our gratitude for magnitude of His grace.