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Monday, May 30, 2011


I just watched the movie 'Conviction,' which is a true story of love and sacrifice.
And dancing.

Kenny Waters is a man who spent most of his life brushing up against the law. It's no surprise that after the woman down the street is found murdered, Kenny is taken in to the police station and questioned. Two years later, he is found guilty and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
And then his sister steps in.
Betty Anne, a high school dropout, puts herself through college and law school and becomes her brother's lawyer. After eighteen long years, after tears, fights, divorce, anger, frustration, after studying night and day, she finds new evidence, she passes her bar exam, she learns about DNA testing, she writes The Innocence Project and gets professional help on the case. And her brother gets exonerated.

Can you believe this woman's passion!? Can you believe her motivation, dedication, perseverance? It's a true story! I wonder what I would work that hard for, what I would give so much of my time, energy, and money for. I'm covered head to toe in lazy bones and I've failed miserably when it comes to working hard at a job. But I think it comes down to: what do I LOVE that I would work so hard for?

My favorite scene of the movie is when Betty is in the car with her two sons. And the conversation starts off joking and then it comes around to the two boys: would they do the same for each other that their mom did for her brother? And they go back and forth, saying what a big commitment it was and how hard it would be to give up what they wanted to do in life. And then one son made a comment about how their mother had sacrificed her life for her brother.
And the mom, Betty, paused. She looks at both of them with a funny little smile on her face. And she says, "You think I sacrificed my life?"

To sacrifice means to give up something valuable or important for the sake of others. To surrender, abandon. And while it was quite obvious that this woman had worked tirelessly for her brother and undoubtedly put him first, she didn't consider it a sacrifice of her life or of the things she wanted to do. In fact, she seemed almost amused at the thought. She seemed to say 'sacrifice? No way. That WAS my life. That was a joy for me to do. I spent the last eighteen years loving.'
She didn't see a sacrifice. To her, this was what she was supposed to do because she loved her brother.

I think this kind of story is something to learn from. What hard work looks like, about turning away from failure and trying a new way, about not giving up. But I think what lesson this woman's life really teaches is a lesson of making your life about others. About taking the you out of the center of your life and orbiting yourself around others. Maybe not seeing the things you do as sacrifices of your way of life for others, but making your way of life a sacrifice. Making your love and commitment to other people so often and automatic that it seems weird when people mention it.

I'm reading Tim Keller's latest book 'King's Cross' and he writes about our relationship with God being a dance. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all centered on each other; glorifying, serving, and adoring one other. They are characterized by 'mutually, self-giving love.' Keller says we're invited into that dance. Satan tells us to be stationary and self-centered, to give to others to feel good about ourselves and as long as it doesn't cramp our lifestyle. But God made us to enter into that dance!

Keller writes, "He must have created us not to get joy, but to give it. He must have created us to invite us into the dance, to say: If you glorify me, if you center your entire life on me, if you find me beautiful for who I am in myself, then you step into the dance, which is what you are made for. You are made not just to believe in me or to be spiritual in some general way, not just to pray and get a bit of inspiration when things are tough. You are made to center everything in your life on me, to think of everything in terms of your relationship with me. To serve me unconditionally. That's where you'll find your joy. That's what the dance is about."

And he says, "If this world was made by a triune God, relationships of love are what life is really all about."

Our lives are dances of service. Of love. Of orbiting around others because of our love for Christ. Of orbiting around Christ because of our desire to glorify Him. Of serving others because we are serving Christ. We dance in communion with Christ when we give our lives away!

We are called to love others because Jesus loved and rescued us. We are called to give our lives away because Jesus sacrificed His on the cross. Humbling understanding that what we are a part of, this dance, is really our ultimate sacrifice to Christ after what He gave to us.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Just Some Thoughts

Jesus loves unconditionally. Nothing I say or do or don't do can change that.

Baptisms are the most beautiful and amazing expressions of faith.

Working with Advance and its amazing staff and volunteers has allowed me to see the body of Christ at work and the power community can have on the lives of believers.

Everything is a choice. I can choose to be patient. I can choose to be understanding. I can choose to be angry and resentful. My choice can always be to turn to Jesus. That's a choice He's given us through the cross.

There are some things about Christianity and faith that I don't understand and feel discouraged that I never will. I'm learning to trust in how God works and moves and in the clarity of conversations with Godly friends.

My favorite thing in the whole entire world is reading. I am so content with a book. My perfect afternoon would include a Starbucks classic black tea with 8 pumps, a good book, and maybe a game of catch afterwards.

Watching a little boy's face light up at the sight of the big black train at Freedom Park is worth all the exhaustion and fatigue in the world.

Romans 8 is good for the soul.

I'm a thinker. Today my mom and I watched a special on the Freedom Riders of the Civil Rights Movement and I started thinking about what the alternatives could have been. Can you imagine if there was no Civil Rights Movement!? Or if they didn't preach nonviolence!?

I love it when tinys do their crazy eyes.

Reading through the Psalms and no matter how many times I've heard it or seen it (via the Little House on the Prairie movie), Psalm 23 still paints the most beautiful picture of God as our Shepherd and our Host.

'Prairie' is a word that I will never spell right the first time.

God calls us to love the poor and assist the people who have less than us. That includes the man standing on the corner or the woman in the homeless shelter. Francis Chan says, 'We're never more like Christ than when we're rescuing people."

'Asset' is my new favorite word. Its meaning and the significance it has had in my life rocks my world. It reminds me a lot of Romans 8:28 and how God works all things for good. Everything can be useful and valuable to us when we can learn to see it that way: when we've sacrificed, when we've hurt, when we make others a priority, when friends and family no longer hear the same call as us and we must learn to discern the voice of God for ourselves. It is all valuable to us. When you've reached the other side of your trial and it's all said and done and a price has been paid, you'll realize it was all an asset to you.

My friends: community: corner are the most important things to me. I only hope I have listened, served, shared, loved as much as you have.

Learning to become a person of grace.

Understanding the importance of Titus 3:3-7 in a whole new way.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Jesus Saves Our Stories

God has been putting the idea of story in my mind for months. I know it can't be a coincidence. I keep reading about it, hearing about it, thinking about it, and I know there must be some learning behind it. I first read a book 'Million Miles in a Thousand Years' about our lives as stories and felt like it was missing something. I thought it failed to answer why our stories really matter and how they've got to be more than just us making the right choices or the 'power of positive thinking.' I've been throwing it over and over in my mind ever since. Why do we tell each other our stories? Why does it matter? Are our stories just about us?

One of my recent favorite movies is 'The King's Speech.' It's an amazing story about a man who becomes king of England right on the brink of World War II and who suffers from a terrible stutter. He meets with therapist after therapist to no avail; his stutter is worse than ever. At the end of the rope, he comes to the office of Lionel Logue and there he meets a man who understands that his stutter is not the real issue. His stammer is a result of traumatic events as a child, not being fed by his nanny, years of ridicule, losing a brother, living a life of royalty, having no friends, having no confidence. This king had never really spoken to anyone about anything: had never shared anything of importance. He had no community.

On the surface, he is a king! A king with a terrible speech impediment. But underneath, he is a man. A boy who was neglected, mocked, told he needed to try harder, rejected.. who grew into a man who had no real friends and lived in the terrible chains of his speech.

Underneath, we all have stories.
The lives we are leading are oftentimes a product of the stories we have been telling up to that point.

We tell our stories because if we don't, we forget how alike we really are. We tell our stories because if we don't, we forget community. We tell our stories because if we don't, we forget our purpose. We tell our stories because if we don't, we miss out on a great opportunity to lead and teach someone. We tell our stories because if we don't, we forget why they're important. Jesus has saved our stories.

I read a book recently ('Love Wins') that talked about the power of story. The author, Rob Bell, talked about the prodigal son in Luke 15 and how each son had a different version of his story. The younger son, who ran away and squandered all his father's money, believes that he isn't worthy of being his father's son again because of the terrible things he's done. The older son, who has faithfully worked for his father for years and years, believes that the father's love is dependent on the work he's done. Each son believes their own telling of their story. But the father tells each one of them, 'Son, you are LOVED and FORGIVEN. Son, ALL that I have is YOURS." He tells them a better version.

Then the book goes on to ask whose version of our story are we trusting? Our own versions, our own pasts, ourselves? Or are we trusting in a story where we are redeemed, loved, valued, beautiful, and saved?
"We hand God.. our stories and we listen while we're told a better one. Because the good news is better than that."

When people tell you their story, how do you respond? Do you tell them a better one?

Lionel Logue in 'The King's Speech' told the king a better version of his story. Not the one that he believed and trusted: that he never deserved to be king and that he had a stammer that disabled him. But that he HAD A VOICE and he was the right man to lead the people of England. His story became one of hope, change, and faith.

My sister, the awesome one in Africa, is teaching her Congolese students to reach out and teach others. In a Democratic Republic of the Congo Realities course, her students participated in service learning projects and went out into the community, teaching other Congolese about health, family, and economic issues. One group went to a local hospital and talked to women about childbirth and proper nutrition for their babies. Another group talked to families and the causes, prevention, and treatment of malaria. Another group did a skit and a Q&A session on drugs and sexual violence at a local church. Many groups were invited back and engaged their citizens in solutions. It's unbelievable.
All of these groups and all of these students are going out into the community and teaching and equipping and instructing their fellow Congolese. They're impacting and influencing and I believe they are helping rewrite some stories. Ones of hope, change, and faith.

That's why our stories matter. That's why we tell them. Because when we tell them, we are reminded of the one that's better. We are reminded of the one Jesus told on the cross. That no matter what our lives have looked like in the past, no matter what we hand God at the end of the day, no matter how many mistakes we've made, we know that He has written us a better one. One of love and forgiveness and redemption. Our lives are continuous stories and we can change them because Jesus saved them. He saves our stories and points us in the direction of a better one. The Gospel of Jesus Christ becomes our story.

"Your deepest, darkest sins and your shameful secrets are simply irrelevant when it comes to the counterintuitive, ecstatic announcement of the gospel."

Share your story with me and I'll tell you a better one.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Learning Freedom

I've spent the past few weeks learning freedom.

Here's how it started.

I realized I didn't know how to be close to God when I wasn't wrestling through something.

For me, learning in my faith has always been a fierce wrestling. The gloves are on and I fight my way through situations and experiences. And what comes from that are wonderful learnings and resolve for the next time, absolutely. I know how to see God through hurt and pain, but I realized I don't know how to see Him when I'm not going through something. So I create issues and hurry worry along so I can feel back in God's presence again. I've thrown myself headfirst and thrashed around in hurt and pain and struggle in order to turn my life upside down. It's exhausting.

I'm learning that God is near AT ALL TIMES. In all situations, in all my emotions. I've always turned my learnings into battles and fought long and hard and come out embattled and satisfied because that's where I thought God met me the most. And I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that: I'm saying I've found freedom in not always having to do that. I'm learning to wait, heed His voice more, to not run to worry. I'm learning to find God when I'm restful. God doesn't only come when I'm broken.

And then that steamrolled into this.

Just the other morning, I had a thought while I was brushing my teeth: 'I really haven't been as intentional or diligent in prayer as I have been before. I've been slacking.' Usually a thought like that would unleash a torrent of shame, a multiple day search and wrestle as to why in the world I've been slacking, a conclusion or revelation (sometimes off base, sometimes not, which would sometimes lead into an investigation on its own), and THEN I'd start being more intentional in prayer. I usually sit in my guilt and allow it to paralyze me.
But that morning, it was just a four thought process. Conviction, confession, repentance, and then I changed it. Made adjustments (cut out laptop time, put down my Kindle) and decided to make it a priority. All before finishing brushing my teeth.

So I'm learning to give myself grace. I've learning to, well, relax. I'm learning that some things aren't worth a weeklong marathon of emotion. I'm learning that some things are simple: a simple examination, a simple prayer, simple trust. I'm learning that I'm not ever going to be perfect. There WILL be imperfections and deficiencies in my walk with Christ. What a crucial valuable learning. It's nothing short of liberating. Grace doesn't come with days of regret and moundfuls of shame. It comes with thoughts of gratefulness, intentionality, and humility in seeking Him.

I've been spending some time with my friend Arin lately (who is amazing) and she lives that grace. I get to see her in action with her tinys: she's incredible! She teaches me through her actions, words, and love what grace looks like in response to other people and especially in response to yourself. Her friendship has given me tremendous freedom! Freedom to breathe a sigh of relief and say 'ahh me too.' She teaches IT ALL REALLY IS OKAY. A Godly woman doesn't have to have a specific blueprint, but she does pursue God, lets Him refine her, gives herself grace, and let's God fill in the rest. Isn't that great news?
I heard Arin's mom say something once that sticks with me now. She said we shouldn't lower our expectations, but to make them realistic. And I think that's what I'm doing now. It's not about lowering expectations or allowing myself to live a life any differently from following Christ: not at all. But it is rewriting my expectations to include grace in everyday life and reworking freedom into that mix. A freedom to let go and let God.

In turn, my faith is becoming less of an exhausting entity I live in and more of a daily breathing in and out union with God. It becomes the rhythm of life. Learning naturally, embracing a process, learning without tossing and turning and wailing, and allowing myself to sllllooooowww down and be human. And let God be God. It's knowing He appears in all things and knowing being close to Him doesn't always have to involve some great struggle of will. I know sometimes it has to and I know sometimes it definitely will and I know I do well when I go through that. But I know that when that does come, to distinguish between life and struggle and to still smile and remember joy despite it all. Wrestling doesn't have to run my life (because I secretly love it: hello idol) and seep into all my relationships, but can just be a natural part of this new kind of faith that I'm learning (does any of this make sense? Because it does in my head).

I shared this with my friend JJ the other day and she said 'so you're struggling through.. struggling?' and it made me laugh so hard and I thought 'wow for once in my life I'm not!!' I'm just living and learning and seeking and praying.. and what clarity I'm getting! Things I'm learning from a new perspective that I might have missed before when I made my journey an idol.

Learning recap: God is near in all situations: in joy, worship, rest, everyday life: just as much as He's been there for me in struggle and conviction and pain and wrestling. And remember to breathe deeply. GRACE MEANS FREEDOM.

There's a lot more freedom in Christ than I realized.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Jesus I Never Knew: Deep

I just finished reading a book, 'The Jesus I Never Knew' by Philip Yancy, and have been incredibly moved about who Jesus was and is.

Philip Yancy is a journalist and his assignment is discovering who Jesus is. His book is split into three parts (who He was, why He came, and what He left behind). He studies Jesus and oftentimes puts himself back in the times of Jesus and wonders what it would have been like to live then. What would he have done? How would he have responded? His analysis of Jesus is amazing.
One of my favorite chapters is the one on miracles. Yancy writes that when Jesus performed miracles, it was with a different set of priorities than his disciples. When He healed, it wasn't to draw a crowd or to show off His stuff or to get applause. He healed because He had compassion on the sick and the people who suffered. He loved them. He honored the dignity of others, whether He agreed with them or not. He loved above all else.

I was having a conversation with a friend recently who has been going through a great journey and struggle with her husband. They've been learning what unconditional love is outside of the realm of friends and family and what entering into a Christlike union is like. It's been hard, to say the least, to remember love over fear.
And in that conversation, I asked my friend what she felt her deep was calling to deep (Psalm 42:7): what was Christ calling her to do? What is the deep part of her calling out the will of God? I know my instinct: I expected an answer of 'take some time away' or 'distance myself' or 'shun my husband.' She reeled off some thoughts and then she said something that's moved me ever since.
She said 'I know my deep is telling me that I am supposed to forgive. And to CHOOSE LOVE.'

I realize that is who God is. God is love. God will never tell me to not love someone. The difficult people in my life: God will never call me away or call me to shun or call me to be compassionless. God will always, always call me to love. Yes, that love looks different for every situation. No, we are not called to be in close relationship with everyone. Yes, people are going to hurt us and make us cry and really be cruel or just be plain obnoxious. But we are never called not to love them or be compassionate towards them because those things are the very nature of God.

The sermon at church today was on Jonah and how he denied God's call to go to Ninevah. I never knew the back story: it's fascinating. Ninevah was a place of wicked and brutal people. A city of ugly sinners. A people that brutalized Israel. When God tells Jonah to go and call out against the evil there, Jonah stops and says "whoa God. Do you know those people? Do you remember what they did!? I'm not going there."
I'm Jonah.
I say 'no thanks' when it comes to people who I don't think deserve it. I opt for showing someone truth before I assure them of God's love. I lack mercy when I need it the most.

But God is a God of LOVE. And that love is truth. And it's redemption and restoration and forgiveness and deliverance and mercy and grace and so many other aspects of God's character. But let me assure you: you will never be asked to not love someone. There aren't any exceptions. 1 John 4:8 says, "Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love." And verse 19 says, "We love because He first loved us."
He's a God of compassion. The father of the prodigal son story in Luke 15 felt compassion when he saw his son returning and ran to greet him. He embraced his son and welcomed him back in. The father interrupts the son's talks of unworthiness and calls for a celebration because he is filled with love and compassion. That's how much Our Father loves us.

As I'm wrestling and writing this, I remember that that love and compassion is a choice. My friend says it better than I could: "marriage is where you both make the choice to love this way and see how it is impossible in the human realm. And you CHOOSE it every day and grow a little closer to the wonder and understanding of a God who chose us consistently even when we wounded Him deeper than we wound each other in marriage and when He had no obligation or commitment to choose us. Love is a choice and sometimes it's the hardest choice, but it's always on us. He gives us the ability to love and the free will to choose it over fear time and time again, based on HIS example and sacrifice."

And I think you could substitute 'marriage' for any of a number of things. Our deep tells us to love, but then we don't have to. Like Jonah, we can choose to go the other way. We can choose love, the love that Jesus graciously gave us through His death on the cross, or we can choose to fear, hate, ignore, run away. My friend reminds me of how hard it is, how easy it is to blame and choose something different. She reminds me of how impossible it is without Christ.

We love our enemies, our friends, our spouses, our bosses because He first loved us. That choice is hard, but we choose it because our God abundantly and exceedingly loves us.