Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Living Out the Incarnation

The Lord is doing some mighty, awesome things here. He is moving in God-like ways.

I am ill-prepared to describe how mighty He is and what's going on inside my heart.

Yesterday, Elliott and I attended a seminar by Teri McCarthy of International Institute for Christian Studies. They send people with terminal degrees to other countries to teach "in such a way as to draw others to faith and transformation in Christ." Long story short, they send qualified individuals to live for many, many years in another country serving as a professor. Their mission is to teach in secular universities in order to represent our Lord--in other words, to live incarnationally.

I have always struggled with my privilege. Why was I born in the U.S. with the means to...everything? Why was I born an English speaker? Why am I so blessed? We are blessed to bless others. My privilege must be used to bring glory to the Father. Teri spoke about how powerful merely teaching English can be. If you teach a woman how to speak English, she can rise from poverty. Teri had four men come up to her in Afghanistan to ask her about the Lord because they had always wondered about Jesus. A man had to speak one line in an English play that Teri wrote--a line about Jesus's birth--and God used it to bring him and his wife to Christ. God can use our privilege if we let him. Those who are given much have much responsibility. Suddenly, everything clicked. And it clicked for Elliott too. We are going to prayerfully consider partnering with IICS in the future for long term missions.

There was so much of what she said that resonated so deeply with me. I cannot encapsulate it. It was private, it was God, and it was beautiful. Elliott was there too and experiencing very similar things. If you are interested in reading more about their mission, I would highly recommend reading Teaching in a Distant Classroom: Crossing Borders for Global Transformation" by Michael H. Romanowski and Teri McCarthy. If you know of anyone who is thinking of teaching in another country for the sake of the gospel, please get this book for them. It is vital for Christians to wrestle with their honest approach to teaching in other countries.

And of course, God is working in other ways as well, but I can only ruminate on little bites at a time. So, to awkwardly end this post, I will just leave with the lyrics to a hymn that has been in my head...

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full at his wonderful face
and the things of earth will grow strangely dim
by the light of His Glory and Grace

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dwelling in Your Context

One day down, and my brain feels like it just left Thanksgiving dinner.

There's so much I've learned, so much information I've gained, and so many connections I've made so far, it would probably be boring to list them all. So let me just share what's heaviest on my heart.

Before we came here, we had started to see true beginnings of the Lord's hand at work: long ago, we gave him a small prayer, that we might be able to be part of a New Monasticism or new form of church in the manifestation of an intentional community. Over the last couple of months, God has really brought us to certain people and surrounded us with certain situations that make it seem like this is his will for us.

Upon coming here, I wanted us to be open to the possibility of going abroad, going elsewhere, going where there is the most need. There is certainly a seed in my heart to help wherever God may call us, and I know it's in my husband's heart too. I half-expected God to speak to us in an "A-HA" moment and say, "Go here, to this remote country, as soon as you return home to Philly." But so often, I think the grandeur of being a missionary overseas overshadows the reality that we are called to be witnesses of God everywhere and anywhere we are placed.

In our neighborhood.

I am so thankful for the wisdom of my husband, and especially for his humility. He pointed out that he would not feel ready to go abroad into a new context until he had learned more how to share the gospel within our own context. Furthermore, he still has a commitment to a church and I have a commitment to finish my teaching degree, so we are here for another year and a half at least, if not longer. Maybe our mission is home in Philadelphia for a year, or maybe for twenty years. We don't know, but we can listen to God's call and respond with, "Yes."

The theme of the conference is, "He Dwelled Among Us."
He is still dwelling among us.
I see Jesus in unlikely places.

Matthew 25:40 (New International Version)

40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Urbana 2009: Upon Arrival

Location: St. Louis, Missouri
How: By a true, miraculous gift from God given to us through our pastor and his wife

We have yet to officially begin, as orientation is at 5pm tonight, but so far, this trip has been a blessing (of course). The weather held out, as I knew it would, because God has a theme of showing us his power through the weather (and through with-holding bad weather). I did not fear the 12-hour journey here, as it was very obvious to me that God wanted us here.

So, a few thoughts before we begin the conference:

1) Prayer and Listening: My prayer for this week is that I deliberately "shut up" and listen to the Lord. I want to practice prayer of listening. Instead of talking or petitioning, I want to wait upon the Lord. I have thought about this discipline before, and have practiced it here and there during yoga, but I know it is something I need to make an effort towards because it is not in my nature to be still.

2) Recognizing that God's ways are not my ways: Elliott and I have been talking about how we hope this trip will be a revelation to us from God about what he wants us to do with our lives. The reality is that maybe God's purpose for us being here is entirely different. I don't know why exactly God wanted us here, but he made it very clear that we were to come. So we did. The rest is up to our diligence and his revealing. I'm open to anything he wants to tell us.

3) Romans 12: I'm not sure if this is directly related to the conference, but this chapter has been blowing my mind lately. I can barely compose all the thoughts and revelations that are coming from reading and re-reading this chapter, but I would challenge everyone to dive into this chapter a little deeper than they ever have before and see how the Lord can use it in your life. I hope that God makes my thoughts and his thoughts clearer that I might write about it in a useful fashion, and I hope to maybe work through it in my blog, verse by verse. For now, just know it's been on my heart and I hope everyone may be blessed through it as I have this past week.

More later, I'm sure...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

We Are Called to Serve

Excerpt from “The Heart of the Artist” by Rory Noland, found on pages 64-65

“First of all, stay focused on ministering to people, as opposed to gratifying yourself artistically. Ministry is not about us and our wonderful talents. It’s about people. It’s all about serving others. First Peter 4:10 says, “Each one of us should use whatever gift he has received to serve others.” If you’re trying to gratify yourself artistically and forget all about ministering to people, it will be a very empty experience. We artists spend so much time on technique and style that we often lose sight of the people we’re trying to reach. [...] We need to come to a meeting, to a rehearsal, or to a service ready and willing to serve. Instead of always asking, “What’s in it for me?” or “What can I get out of this?” we need to ask, “How can I serve? What can I give?”

My mentor and friend read this passage during an arts-retreat-planning meeting, and it brought me to tears. Suddenly, I realized why I had become so empty while at Villanova and why acting turned from something so full to something so empty. When I was at Eastern University, we were trained not only in technique, but also in serving our audience. Acting was not about ourselves, but about the community and the communal experience—not just between actors, but especially between the actor and the audience. At Villanova University, acting was no longer about serving, but about mastering my own technique. It became so focused inwards, about self, and it left me completely empty. There was virtually no community of actors taking care of each other. I don’t think anyone at Villanova would want to hear this or necessarily promote this style, but even if it’s not what their mission is, it is still evident from their actions. Professional and academic acting, from what I witnessed, is so much about SELF. No wonder I couldn’t see where my acting fit into the kingdom of God; while at Villanova, there was nothing kingdom about it.

This isn’t to say I am about to jump back into theatre, but it just clicked in my mind and made sense. Whatever gift we have, it is meant to be given and not kept to ourselves.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cultural Blinders

The other day, I was speaking with my brother about Bernard of Clairvoux. I told him I wanted to read more of his work. Matt told me he is known as the theologian of love. Conversely, however, he was also the theologian of the crusades.

“That’s weird,” I remarked with a crinkled, confused face.

“It was his culture,” Matt astutely replied. “We are all susceptible to cultural blinders. We have them too.”

It makes me wonder: what are my cultural blinders?

Just now I started reading the book “The Heavenly Man” about Brother Yun. When he was a teenager, he fasted for 100 days for a Bible, only eating one bowl of rice at night. This story made me think of two things: 1) What should I be fasting for? Why am I not in more earnest for Christ? 2) Is the over-consumption culture in which I live blinding me from truth?

1) What would cause me to earnestly fast after the Lord? I am inspired by those who are seeking so much that they sacrifice so much comfort for the Lord’s benefit. I have often tried fasting before. For about a year, I fasted once a week, but it turned out to be a diet tactic shrouded by holy piety. I also feel that because of my particular struggles, fasting seems to be a stumbling block for me; I get so focused on NOT eating that again, my thoughts become about food and not about God at all. What is it like to give up everything in order to hear from God?

2) To go back to a common, early theme, my struggle is vanity, and I believe consumption (or over-consumption) has a lot to do with it. I believe I have too much of everything, but especially clothes and food. I am also led to believe that I need this much stuff. I need ten pairs of shoes, ten different hoodies, five jackets, etc. I need a variety of foods, lattes, hot chocolate, etc.

As far as food goes in my life, I would say that I have a very limited and simple diet, but it often leads me to believe I am hungry. I get discontent with my simple food. I want more, I go out and get more, more, more, more. It’s so readily available that I consume without thought. I feel as though I am constantly in consumption.

As for clothes, I have wanted to purge myself of my stuff, but I need a reason why. A clear reason why. Right now, I just have this small inkling that perhaps it would be better to have less, but I don’t know what God means by this inkling. Does he want me to give up so others can have what I have had and do not wear often? Does he want me to give up so that I learn to sacrifice? Both? How much? What do I give?

I want, as much as possible, to be aware of cultural blinders and eradicate their ensnaring powers in my life. I want Jesus to have all of me. Besides, all this “stuff” I have accumulated belongs to him and him entirely. I am a guest here; everything is his.

Soon, Elliott and I will be embarking on an adventure to Urbana. On this conference, we really hope and pray that we will have time to seek the Lord together, free from the distractions of our lives here at home. We will be forced to live very meagerly—on canned goods, beans, veggies, peanut butter, and rice cakes. For a week. It’s a sort of a fast, don’t you think? Maybe I will learn that we can live with very little. And as for packing, I do not need much. I should use this opportunity to leave with as little as possible, to escape distractions, to focus on the Lord.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Your Ways are Better

Isaiah 55:8-9

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

neither are your ways my ways,"
declares the LORD.

"As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

God's way is always better than my way, even when I think my way is pretty gosh-darn good.

Take, for instance, the time when I was looking for a new job closer to home. I applied to every small, privately-owned shop and store that graced our South Philly neighborhood. The owner of my favorite coffee shop really wanted to hire me too, but my schedule conflicts made it impossible at the time. I remember that day after the interview, trudging my way into the car, fighting back my tears of frustration and disappointment. "It seemed like such a good option," I thought. Honestly, the way I saw it, this option was the best one.

But no. God closed that door.
And then he opened a door. Very cleverly, I might add.

So there I was, back at the coffee shop; the coffee shop that had rejected me as an employee. I was sitting there with my sister-in-law when an old college acquaintance walked in. I'm always awkward in these moments, wondering what to say or what their reaction will be, but I thought, "No, I'm going to say hi." Turns out my friend was the manager of a Starbucks looking for a shift supervisor. I was hired within two weeks.

Here's what God did: he took my dream and made it better. He touched it with his Spirit and made it... just right. More right than I could ever make it.

God really takes care of us, you know? The thing is, maybe there would be benefits to working for a small mom-and-pop store, but God knew that with the forfeiting of my corporate job, Elliott and I would need health benefits. I never even thought of applying to Starbucks, but it ended up to be the better option. God's ways are better.

I need to remind myself of these moments, because sometimes I really get discouraged. Recently, I've been thinking about the future. I would really like to have kids someday (sooner rather than later), but I know we don't make even nearly enough money at this point. Nor do we have the finances to save enough for a house in the near future. It can get very discouraging, but the reality is that God's ways are better than mine. The way he works in our lives, he's going to do something for us that's so incredibly "him" that there will be no other way than to point the glory directly back to its source.

He's already doing it!
Yay God!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

My Prayer of Today

Dear God,

I earnestly pray that you will help me to be more gracious towards others,
to always place others' needs above my own,
to sacrifice willingly and joyfully.
I pray that you will give me strength to do so,
because I cannot do it on my own.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

An Exercise in Loving Oneself

Victoria tagged me for this thing where you write down ten things you love about yourself. I have to say that I was really hesitant to do it, and honestly really didn’t positively intend on filling it out. As it is, I don’t feel exactly comfortable posting it on my own blog 1) because my blog is focused on my walk with God, and 2) because well, it’s a vulnerable thing to post. However, as I struggled this morning to love myself and found myself saying the same disparaging things in my mind, I thought, “You know, it probably would be a good exercise for me to fill it out. It might be a healthy thing for me to do.”

Also, I was thinking about Bernard of Clairvoux’s four stages of love: 1) Love of self for self’s sake. 2) Love of God for self’s sake. 3) Love of God for God’s sake. 4) Love of self for God’s sake. I’m not really sure what number four looks like in reality, but I am striving to get there. I certainly have had number one mastered for the majority of my life, and I feel like now I’m fluctuating between two and three, though Lord-willing I hope I am settling in more cozily in number three. But love of self for God’s sake? What does that look like?

I spend most of my days not liking myself. I feel ugly, slobbish, heavy, imperfect, unsuccessful. I know these are all human-measured adjectives, and I want to get to a point where I just spend most of my days loving the Lord, expending my thought-ly energies on Jesus and loving him and others around me....and yeah, loving myself too....with a love that is right and in a good place.

So here goes: 10 things I love about myself.

1) I love where I came from, in all senses of the word. I love my family and the people they are and how they raised me. I love the mountains of North Jersey and the Narnia and Middle Earth we created there. I love my childhood and what made me the person I am today. I love my friends who grew up with me, and are growing up with me.

2) I love where I am currently. I love being married to my best friend, I love living in community with my brother and his family, I love working at Starbucks and going to school to become a teacher, I love getting to know God more fully and in deeper ways, and I love that Elliott and I are in a place where we can honestly say, “Here we are Lord. Send us.”

3) I love that God gave me an incredible gift of singing. I love floating in the air with the tone of my voice and finding out all the different ways I can use it to make all sorts of pretty and interesting sounds.

4) I love that God has given me the gift of empathy and love for other people, especially those who are downtrodden and outsiders. I like living in that openness and love for others. It’s truly a gift from the Lord.

5) I love that I enjoy being healthy. I like exercising, I like healthy foods, and I like learning about what I can do to become healthier. I like encouraging others to be healthy as well.

6) I love that I have the ability to run. I was never athletic in high school or college, so this new-found challenge of running, though at times difficult, as been exploratory and exciting. More than anything, though, I’m just thankful I have that ability and I love that about myself.

7) I love that I have the ability to act and have gotten to play all sorts of different people in the past. I love especially that I got the chance to be Maid Marion at the Renaissance Faire and got the chance to pursue acting professionally through Villanova’s scholarship. I also love, though, that God had me wake up and realize acting doesn’t have a true place in my life right now. It wasn’t healthy for me, and I’m glad God got me out of it.

8) I love that I enjoy reading and grew up reading books. I love that I like to think and dissect different books with literary theories and such. I love that I got to major in English. I still can’t believe I received a degree for reading books and discussing them.

9) I love that I married Elliott. I love our relationship and that we get to work on that relationship forever. I love our adventures. My life is so much richer.

10) I love that I know I like being around people for my job but also that I know I am an introvert and need time to myself. It’s good to know where the balance is and be aware of it.

So I will tag: Nora and Kate.

Monday, December 7, 2009

My Very Own Rainbow

In the face of uncertainty, God has a way of working things out so that the circumstances point directly to him. This reality and experience has been my comfort and peace. I can do nothing but submit and obey--gladly, willingly, and with some sacrifice.

When confronted with an uncertain situation, my human inclination tells me to worry and start planning for the worst, or work really hard to make things better again. Jesus tells me, "Just wait and watch what I'm going to do!"

Once upon a time I had this dream, this prayer, this ernest desire and wish to be married in God's creation. My then-fiance and I wanted desperately to be married in the church of the great outdoors--in the woods among his creatures and creations. We planned for a June wedding, and I spent the next year asking nearly everyone I came into contact with to pray for a nice day.

The spring turned against me with all her raging stormy glory. For months, we watched as sunless day after sunless day passed by. I checked the weather every day to see what the weeks ahead would bring, and all I saw was rain, rain, rain. Finally, I let go. I stopped checking the weather and just said: so be it. It's in God's control. We will get the wedding day he wants us to have, and it will be wonderful, and my family and my friends will be there to witness it. It will be glorious because the Holy Spirit will make it glorious.

We got the one sunny, beautiful, non-humid day that month.
That entire month.

The next morning as we left for our honeymoon, the skies opened up again. Rain.
God's glory at work.

I don't know why he chose to give us a beautiful day. He could have chosen not to give us such a day, and it still would have been wonderful. But when I consider this day, and how God works in such a way that shows his glory, I am humbled. For the rest of my life, I will be able to say that God gave us that day specifically. It was an honest miracle. There is no way that day should have been beautiful.

And, more than anything, he gave me that day as a reminder. That day is my Noah's rainbow in my life. It's my personal reminder from God that he is in control and I have nothing to fear.

I like watching his hands at work in life. I like seeing the impossible become reality. Trusting can be difficult, but it's so much better than worrying, don't you think?

And the impossibility-made-reality becomes his glory.

Friday, December 4, 2009

An Overflow

Romans 2:7-8
"He will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers. But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness."

When I was younger, I had these distant thoughts in the back of my head.
I want to help people. What am I doing with my life? I should be doing something, right? There are people who need help. I am able, I could help them. I want to do something.

I didn't. I didn't have time, I didn't know the right people, I didn't know how to fit it into my life.

At the time, I wasn't looking at things with an eternal view. I never understood how really, so I just focused on earth. I needed to get my career going. God would use me as soon as my acting career was off the ground. I never understood, personally, why I was in acting, but God gave me gifts and I had to use them... the reasons why, well...they would probably follow eventually.

I had no fruit because I was earthly minded.

Now. A transformation. A God-thing, not a me-thing. Today, acting is secondary. A career is secondary. I'm not throwing all caution to the wind (I am still preparing for a modest career), but the more I am in community with the Lord, the more works just pour out of me... because I want to. I just want to show the love of Christ to people in any way possible, so I look for opportunities and I act on them (when given the grace of the Lord).

Again, it's not me. It's God.

I am thankful for this newness of being, and clarity of scripture. I certainly hope this trend will continue on into all aspects of my life (ahem... um, see previous post...).

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Issue We Don't Discuss

Truth be told, my biggest stronghold and chain is vanity.

It's a burden I've carried with me since I was young (and it's probably a burden we all carry around with us, to some degree or another). I remember being as young at six and staring at my thighs. I would try to lift them up so that they wouldn't press against my seat and look fatter.

I'm not fat. I'm not. I've never been fat. I've never been super thin (except in my carrots-and-gum-only phase), but I've never been fat. But I've always felt fat...probably because I've just been focused on "self."

The truth is, I have a lot to be thankful for: my legs not only work, but they are strong. I run. I can run far. It's a skill I've been developing, a skill that I've only recently found and developed, but it's sort of...a wake up call. I am able to run, to exercise, to push myself when I run, to walk fast, to walk up and down stairs, to do everything free of pain. Not everyone has that gift. I should be thankful and just work on being healthy.

But I look in the mirror and I judge myself. My thighs. I don't fit into the skinny jeans that I want to fit into. I don't fit into the style I want to fit into. I can't wear what I want to wear. I feel encumbered by my body, trapped, frumpish, slobbish. I feel ashamed.

Yes, that's it. It's shame.

Shame that I can't push myself to eat less, to exercise more...shame that I was never the skinny girl, and that no matter how little I eat, I will never be that girl...shame that I can't, I just can't... shame...

Shame that I'm not focusing my thoughts where they should be.
Oh, right. Hey, God.
Umm...what are you doing here? Sorry, I didn't think you'd want to enter into this self-destructive ten-year conversation I've been having with myself.

The thing is, I want out. I want out so desperately. Out of this path, this lie, this obsession with self and vanity and non-Godness. I don't want it any more, but where do I turn? I've been praying about it for so long, but the temptation is waiting for me every time I put on my jeans because they aren't the jeans I want to wear. So how do I break free? When will God break me free?

...or is it the discipline I put into it? What should I avoid? My main focus has just been fueling this temple... cutting out the processed, sugary foods and focusing on whole foods and ample exercise and then... live. Just live and breathe and love and care. But the trap is still there, still waiting for me.

I just wish there were more of an outlet for Christian women struggling with this disease, this temptation, this bulging bag of crap and lies. There isn't. I haven't found one, anyways. Where do we go, women? How can we help each other to live practical, meaningful, healthy lives where our main focus is God and how he can use us?

Where do I go?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Daily Life

I want to live in the reality of Christ every day.
I want everyone to understand, grasp, and welcome His reality.

So much of my life, I live. I just live. I do the daily thing: the chores, the work, the bills, the worrying. So often, a part of me forgets.
I don't want to forget.

I want to live moment-to-moment
in His grace,
in His presence,
in His truth,
in His reality.

I want to be more affected.
I want to be more effective.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

It Suddenly Dawned On Me: A girl, God, and reality

It just dawned on me the other day.
This is real. This is really going to happen.

Our church was celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles, and there we were: just a couple of girls in a 20-minute Bible study. The sort of Bible studies that you usually take for granted, the ones that you never remember. You answer a couple of questions about Jesus and faith, and then you move on to ice cream and some games. But something happened this time. Something different.

You could call it the Holy Spirit.
Actually. Yeah. It was the Holy Spirit.

I have been a Christian my entire life. I have had serious, real encounters with the Spirit. But this time, God revealed himself to me in a way I never before experienced.
This is really going to happen.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (New International Version)

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

For the very first time in my life, I had an inkling, a slight glimmer, of what that above promise meant. I had a glimpse of eternal...everything. I suddenly realized that everything I had learned about God... everything I read about in the Bible and sung about... everything, all of it--it was all true. It was going to be true. This eternity stuff was real. This God stuff was more than in my head or in our heads. This is it.

Wow. And what?

Think about how this epiphany changes things. This confrontation with truth is radical. It changes literally everything. I see life through a complete new set of lenses.

But how will it truly change me? How will I live differently? How can I devote every single moment to the Lord?

Listen. This could just be another boring blog, and I don't know why you're compelled to be here in the first place. But to be honest, I have been a Christian since forever, but I never lived it. I'm just a self-obsessed, vain, former actress-turned-aspiring-teacher who, after 25 years of living, wants to actually live.

I am ready for a full life.

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