Remember and remind 

I wrote this in 2012. The Lord showed me so much during this time. I thought it was time for a reminder.

Warm summer sun setting behind me as I walk, still smiling about all the laughs shared. As my friend and I split paths, the street lights illuminate the trail home. We continue to wave until the light fades from the sky and I can no longer see her in the distance. I turn to follow the softly lit path home. As I am walking a light ahead quietly fades out. I am still reliving the joys of summer time fun as the lights burn out ahead and behind me. My feet know the path so well that the lack of light does not concern me. There is still the soft glow of the moon and stars to guide me. I see a flash of white.

I inhale and choke on dirt and feel the jagged edges of gravel in my forearms. I blink dusty tears from my eyes and push myself onto my knees. Sudden sharp pain explodes in the back of my head. I reach back and feel moisture and something sharp. I try to quell the nausea caused by the surging pain in my skull. I stand to my feet, trying to figure out where I am and how I got here.

I take a staggered step and trip over a broken wooden bat. I examine it and see blood where it has been broken. Okay, that explains the nauseating pain in my skull. I stagger forward and see a figure that looks familiar. She obviously knows me as she walks over to me. She guides me to a group of people I feel like I should know. I don’t want to risk offending them, so I pretend that I know who they are. I can’t say I did a great job. I don’t know them, or why I’m here, or even who I am.

After some time, seeing that I am in pain, the girl takes me to see another lady. I should be apprehensive, but all I can think about is how dark it is. How has it been dark for so long? Surely it must be close to morning. My thoughts are interrupted by the girl saying that she will be waiting me for when the lady is done.

My heart quickens with panic. I do not know the girl (although I know I should), but I trust her. I feel this strong bond between us. The strength is somewhere between friends and sisters. I can’t leave her.

The lady guides me into an alleyway. She takes out some tools that I cannot see in the darkness. I would run, but the surging pain in my head has crippled me. The lady begins to whisper sweet nothings as she pulls large splinters out of my gaping head wound. With each splinter the pain is renewed. I gasp for air, willing myself to not cry. Before long the pain subsides, and I feel her closing the wound. The lady says I should be fine. I exit the alley, and the girl is waiting for me. I still don’t know who she is. Or who I am for that matter.

I walk with the girl back to the group of people I should know and stay with them for a while. The chill in the air is nearly gone, and I faintly recognize the surroundings. Eventually, they figure out that I do not know them, but light appears to be coming upon the horizon. The group shows slight frustration that I do not know them, but I am unable to make myself remember.

I am now convinced that wherever this is  a place with little to no light. I have eaten and slept many times. Light has not come. I can now navigate the blue-grey landscape with only moderate difficulty.

Later, I awake from sleep to find myself alone. I am confused (more so than normal). The group has never left me before. I stumble around the alleyways with the constant dull ache in my head. Ahead I see a group that looks the ones I should know. Relieved, I head toward them.

This cannot be the group of the ones that I should know. The feeling of the familiar bond must have deceived me. They would never look at me that way.

Suddenly I feel my ribcage compress as a sharp blow lands on my sternum. As I gasp for air, I feel a knee crash into my abdomen. A metallic taste fills my mouth as I cough and blood hits the ground. I collapse on the ground. The impact of a large boot is felt on the left side of my rib cage. I hear a soft crunch and inhale sharply. Pain explodes in my chest. I feel cold metal crash into my legs, but I cannot move. I feel the continued blows until everything fades black, and then I feel nothing.

I open my eyes to see a white figure standing just a few feet from me. He is so bright, but I can tell it is a man. His face is far too bright to see. He is glowing with a bright white light that would be blinding even if the whole world weren’t dark. He speaks. His voice is string and powerful yet gentle and comforting. He says “Come to me, and I will give you rest.”

Though I cannot imagine how, I pull myself up and half limp half crawl to the man. As I almost reach him, fatigue and pain grip me. I collapse. To my surprise, I do not fall to the ground but into His arms. He picks me up and easily carries me. The pain of my injuries hasn’t subsided, but somehow, in His arms, I feel safe. I find rest.

I awake in a room that I can only assume is a hospital. The room is almost unbearably bright, but somehow, that’s okay. It is warm too but comfortable. I am on a bed which is leaps and bounds above the streets I’ve been sleeping on. I turn and see the glowing man next to me. Suddenly pain ripples through my body, and I scream. The man says “Peace. I am with you, my child.” The pain doesn’t vanish, but somehow, I am comforted anyway.

I remember the injuries as the man relays them to me. They are extensive; I would not be here without Him. These things I know. They will require much therapy; it will be painful and difficult. I ask how much the therapy will help. He says I will be made new. He tells me to rest today, for tomorrow we start. Eventually the pain subsides, and I sleep.

The next day I awaken in pain again. The man tells me today I must venture out. Isay ‘My injuries are too great. I cannot leave.” He says “Each night, you may return, but each day you must leave. I will give you strength. It will hurt, but this where the healing starts. Fear not, I am always with you.” I want to protest but cannot. I say “I will need somebody to help me, a friend.” He says “I have taken care of it.’

He fits me in braces to care for my injuries and clothes me in a hoodie and sweatpants that cover my braces. Miraculously, my face was not noticeably damaged in the assault. On my wrist is what looks like a bracelet but is as much a part of me as my own skin. It looks familiar. As if reading my thoughts, He says “That is your reminder that my Spirit is always with you. You’ve always had it; you just notice it in times of trouble.” This thought brings me comfort.

My first day out I wander, wondering where my friend is. This girl comes up to meand treats me like a friend. She is bright and cheery like a sunflower. I decide Sunflower girl will be a good friend, at least for now. The day is not easy, but I make it through.

As I return to the hospital, I am in pain and just want to sleep. The man has other ideas. I am put through much physical therapy. I fail at tasks often, get frustrated and cry because I am in so much pain. I lay in bed, my body throbbing. The man wraps me in his arms and comforts me. He says “You are dearly loved, my child.” The pain subsides, and I drift off to sleep.

The next few days pass exactly the same way. Sunflower invites me to hang out with her and her friend after a few days. Her friend is cool and peaceful like a river. I grow to enjoy spending time with Sunflower and River. The days get barely easier but easier. The sun had returned to the sky.

Nighttherapy is still very painful. I still fail just as often as at the beginning.One night as I am being comforted, I ask “Who am I?” He replies “You are mine.” I say “Yes but who am I?” He says “You are mine, and you are dearly loved. That’s all you need to know right now. You will learn the rest later.” Oddly, this comforts me, and I find sleep.

Aftera few weeks, I see that Sunflower and River are good friends to me. They help me get through each day, by talking and listening. Anytime that is not enough, I look to my wrist and find comfort. Eventually Sunflower and River ask me to hang out with them at night. I do not know what to say.

That night, at the hospital the man says “Tomorrow you will do your therapy in themorning.” He knows. I am relieved and scared. I have never stayed awake throughthat pain. I desperately want to enjoy the time with my friends.

The next morning, we begin therapy. It starts much like the others. Failure. Frustration. Crying. Toward the end, the man wants me to try walking without my braces to Him one more time. I say that I can’t. He says “I will give you strength. Just try.” I shake my head in disbelief but stand up anyway. I tenderly pick up my left foot, move it 6 inches forward, and set it down. I repeat with my right foot and miraculously don’t fall. I take one step. Two. Three. Four. Five. I pick up my foot to take another and fall. I don’t care. Iam overjoyed! I took 5 steps!!! I smile and see the man is smiling too.

As I sit here smiling on the day’s accomplishment, I look at my wrist and feel blessed. I am healing. I have found great friends in Sunflower and River. As we watchthe sky change magnificent colors as the sun sets. I no longer fear the dark; I know the sun will rise again. As the light fades and I am overwhelmed withlove, music of Joshua Radin begins playing in my head.

“For thefirst time

In such along time

I know

I’ll be okay”

The Truth about Luka

By now you have undoubtedly seen at least one of the many, many pictures I have posted of my puppy. He is a wonderful shepherd mix that has encouraged me to get out and enjoy the outdoors. He is an absolute joy to have, but all is not as it seems. I didn’t get Luka because I just wanted a new pet. Luka is an emotional support dog.A year ago, I moved to Alabama to be on staff with Chi Alpha. The move was hard on me, but I eventually settled into the new flow here. I threw myself into doing ministry things all the time. I was so busy all the time, but, at least in my head, busy was good. Around mid October, I began getting headaches everyday. 

The headaches weren’t bad at first, but then they became more consistent and more severe. I just ignored them for the most part. Then they got worse, so I started trying to fix them. First I thought it was caffeine. Then I thought it was allergies. Then I didn’t know what it was, so I looked up all the possible causes online and tried to fix it. Nothing worked.

Around December, I began to notice my mood changing. I was getting more tired, and it was harder to get motivated to do anything. I also began to feel anxious not all the time but pretty frequently. I figured I was just tired and hadn’t rested enough, so I resolved to just ignore it. It would get better on its own.

In February, I realized that I no longer wanted to get up in the mornings. I hated everything I was doing everyday. These headaches were so consistent that I didn’t have days without them. I was miserable, so I scheduled a doctor’s appointment. I thought the changes in my emotional state were caused by whatever was causing my headaches. The MRI came back with nothing. I had no answers.

So I resolved that I would just power through and spend time with Jesus. I would get through this. As time wore on, I no longer had the motivation to spend time with the Lord. I didn’t know what I enjoyed doing anymore. I didn’t know how to do anything to relieve this misery. 

I prayed and prayed. I finally talked to some of my best friends and agreed that after our mission trip if I didn’t feel better, I would seek help. The mission trip came and went. I felt no better. So I got evaluated by a counselor. 

I am dealing with moderate depression and anxiety. It turns out that those headaches are linked to depression. I didn’t want medication, so I asked about an emotional support animal. I wanted to try anything else before resulting to medication. The counselor thought it would be a good fit and wrote a prescription for one. This is why I have Luka.

My symptoms have decreased a lot. I am glad to have this pup.

Let me clarify, Luka is not getting rid of my struggle with depression and anxiety. Luka has a need to go outside frequently. I have to let him out and walk him. Being outside reminds me of the goodness of the Lord. When I remember the goodness of the Lord, I want to spend time with Him. God is healing me.

I trust the Lord. I really do. I can remember that God is in control of everything and that He will take care of me. That’s hard to remember when my heart is racing, and my thoughts are going a million miles an hour. When my mind, my body, and my spirit don’t line up, it’s hard to remember truth.

I remember the truth of the Lord most clearly when I am in the midst of His creation. I remember that He loves me and has plans for me when I can see the care He has put into each individual tree. Luka helps me remember that by simply being there and having needs.

There is nothing special about this dog. He is not healing me, but I am reminded of the one who is every time I have to take him outside. When I can’t convince myself of the need to see the Lord’s creation, the needs of the puppy forces me to do so.

Now, I’m waiting to hear back from my new apartment complex to see if they will allow him to move with me. If he cannot, I will have to get rid of him. I don’t want to have to get rid of him because of how he helps me see the Lord, but if I do, I’m convinced that I can still be restored to peace and wholeness. God is my healer. He just happens to be using a 3 month old puppy to help.

I wrote this only in the interest of being honest and vulnerable. Even as leader in a ministry, I struggle with mental health issues. It’s not a permanent thing, but it is a very real thing. I need help sometimes. I’m not strong enough to just power through it, and that’s okay.

One week later

It’s been a week since I have returned to the U.S. I’ve been out of the country many times, but this trip was different. For one, I somehow managed to experience basically zero jet lag or reverse culture shock. For two, it was an entirely different continent than I have ever been to. For three, it was the first ever solo trip for the University of Alabama Chi Alpha. 

Strangely enough, those aren’t why I think this trip was so different for me. I can’t really put my finger on what was so different, but I know it was.  One thing has remained the same. The Lord taught me a lot.

As I have been mulling over those 26 days during this past week, I kept coming back to one instance. As I pressed into that instance, I asked the Lord what more He had to say about it. You see there were lots of things the Lord showed me while in South Asia, but this one thing played in my head on repeat. All of the experiences on that trip and the one that comes back to my mind so vividly? The day we missed the point.

We were in the northern part of the island , working in areas still feeling the effects of the war that desecrated the land for 26 years. Even though the war had been over for years, the people group that inhabited the northern part of island were still being oppressed by the ethnic and religious majority. The Buddhist majority made it to where these people were being slighted by government policy and held in subservience by lack of sufficient resource. The northern landscape still bears many scars from the war as do the hearts of these people.

The war ended about 8 years ago, so many of the children in this nation have never actively seen war. The children of the north just grow up learning that the Buddhist majority has the power and that their ethnicity will cause them to be given less advantage than those who grow up in the south. Despite this knowledge, these children act just as any children would. They marvel at foreigners, love to play games, and can almost always be persuaded with a biscuit (cookie).These are the children we would work with for the first few days of our trip. 

A large part of our time on this trip was spent doing children’s programs for the local pastors. They like to do children’s programs to get access into communities that have yet to be reached by the Gospel. Children’s ministry is not my favorite thing, but I wanted us to serve the pastors the best we could. Most days we would spend a couple hours doing children’s programs which are kind of like VBS. We did several programs where we would share stories from our lives, share a story from the Bible, play games, do crafts, sing songs, and perform skits.

A few days into it, we had it down. We knew exactly who was doing what and everything was flowing smoothly. Then one day, the pastor said that our program needed to be half an hour shorter for this particular area. So I began refiguring timing on things and trying to figure out if we needed to cut something. One of the guys came to ask me about the program and said “We could cut something out and just play with them. That’s the most important part.” I agreed, but something about that statement just didn’t sit right with me.

The next day we had another program of the same length. It was easier that day because we already knew what we were cutting from the original program. This day we had the local pastor as our translator which was great because he knew how to explain the stories better. We went through the program just as we had the day before. 

I finished narrating the skit just as I had the days before, and then said “Now it’s time to play and just have fun!” The pastor looked at me very confused, so I repeated myself. He still looked confused and said “Shall we lead them to the Lord?” I kinda laughed and said “Yes, we shall!” I let someone else lead, and slowly the feeling of silliness that I had felt when the pastor asked me melted into conviction. May 31st: the day we missed the point.

In all our exuberance to play with the kids, we never once actually tried to lead them to the Lord. Somewhere along the way, we began to believe that playing with the children was more important than telling them about Jesus. Sure, we never would have vocalized that, but our actions said plenty. 

These children need Jesus not another American playmate. They need to know the love of Jesus and how to live for Him, not how to copy some white person that they won’t see again. Every trip I have been on has playing with kids as a highlight. Playing with kids isn’t bad; it’s just not the point. These kids need to know the Savior that loves them enough to die for them and the new life He offers. Sometimes in the quest for our instagram quality pictures and memories of us “doing missions”, we miss the point.

Those kids were in a seemingly hopeless situation. They grew up in a war torn region. They grew up in a completely Hindu area of a completely Buddhist country. They may never have a chance to hear the hope of Jesus. This situation was far too important for us to forget the point. Thank the Lord the pastor was there to redirect us, or we may have missed the point at every program we did after that.

The more I have thought about it over the past few days, the more I have realized I do this in America too. Because the problem isn’t playing with kids. The problem is getting so used to trying to silently act like Jesus that we forget to actually lead people to Him. If we don’t proclaim Jesus with our lives AND our mouths, we end up making people think we are worth following, and that leads down a dangerous road.

I am so guilty of this. I try my best to live in a Christlike way. I try to love like Christ. I try to serve like Christ. I try to make my character as close to Jesus as I can. But I very rarely actually proclaim that it is Christ that I am trying to live like. I get so caught up in the things I need to do to make disciples that I forget to tell them who I am following.

If living my life in a way that I think reflects Christ doesn’t actually lead anyone to Christ, maybe I’m not actually reflecting Christ.

I realize in trying to live like Jesus I have to proclaim who He is with my words just as much as my actions. If you look at the Bible, it’s very obvious who Jesus is living for. He says all the time who He is for. He doesn’t just extend kindness to people; He tells them of the Lord’s grace for them. He doesn’t just heal people; He points them back to the Father. I have to learn to proclaim Jesus with words as well as my actions.

I know we see a lot of articles about making sure your speech and actions match. Almost all of these talk about making your actions match your speech. For example, we can’t just talk about helping the poor; we need to actually help them. I think the inverse is true as well. We can’t just help the poor; we need to talk about helping the poor. How does anyone else know why we do what we do if we don’t ever tell them?

The biggest thing I’ve learned from my most recent trip overseas is that if we don’t keep our focus on leading people to Jesus,  we will completely miss the point. Even on a mission trip, we will still miss the point. 

Leading people to Jesus is the point. Let us be careful to not forget that.

Day 9

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“Jesus raised Lazarus because he felt his pain not because he was next on his to do list.”

My friend Alex shattered my world with this quote about a year ago. It convicted me as deeply then as it does now. In ministry, we have a habit of just trying to move through our to do list and get through each day. In most occupations, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The problem is that in ministry 100% of your job is relational. The things on your to do list are people. It can be easy to breeze through appointments and meeting giving good Godly advice without ever investing in a single person. We can “accomplish” a lot without ever giving of ourselves.
Why is this a problem? It’s a problem because we devalue human life when reduce people to a space on our schedule or a box to be checked. When we don’t invest in people, we say that they are not worth enough for us to give something personal, give something that’s a part of us. We are saying that other people are less valuable than we believe ourselves to be.
The biggest problem with doing ministry this way is that it is completely contradictory to the way Jesus did His ministry. The Christian life is supposed to be a mirror of the life of Christ. We are supposed to carry the nature of Christ.
Jesus was very relational and actually invested in relationships. His whole disciple making process is incredibly relational. He called us to live a life of love. Love means investing. It means sacrificing. It means being vulnerable.
Jesus raised Lazarus because he loved him. He invested in Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Jesus was so invested that he wept before he ever made a move to raise Lazarus. Jesus decided that it was important enough to visit them. He was invested enough to be there for the family as well as raise Lazarus.
How many of us, given the power to do so, would raise Lazarus without ever stopping to weep? How many of us would raise Lazarus without ever stopping to comfort Mary and Martha? How many of us would raise Lazarus without ever going to the grave or seeing his sisters and would have instead chosen to raise him from a distance and go on our merry way?

The truth is that if we are not willing to love people deeply and actually invest in them, then we aren’t actually following Jesus.

Day 8

I often wonder how I ended up here
There’s no anxiety, no fear
I’m in a place so far from what I have known
A place so strange, so foreign, but so home

I walk gently along this muddy road
My shoulders, stiff, still remember the load
The cares and the worries of this life
The tension, the pain, the strife

The burdens are gone, my shoulders at ease
No directions, only a voice on the breeze
Journey onward with no destination in sight
But I will stay with you and walk by Your light

Jesus, Your love and faithfulness overflows
Your voice I will follow, wherever it goes

Day 8

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On Home

Home is not a place. It’s not 4 walls, a door, and some decorations. It’s not beds in rooms or dressers with drawers. It’s not clothes and books and tvs and tables.

Home is wherever your heart is full when your pockets are empty. Home is where finding rest and getting sleep aren’t always the same things. It’s where worries are divided and love is shared. It’s where you come with nothing and leave with everything.

I don’t know that I’ve ever felt a place was home. For years, I thought this meant that I had a restless spirit. I thought that I would forever be a wander in search of home. I thought that I would never find this place that everyone called home.

After years of searching and never finding, I began to wonder if home just wasn’t a place I would ever find. Maybe it is a luxury reserved for some and withdrawn from others . So I resigned that I would just be a wanderer and stopped looking.

Then one day, my heart was awakened. I had rediscovered a love for the one they call Savior. Jesus Christ had renewed my love for Him and in doing so renewed my love for life. In Him, I found belonging. In Him, I found home.

In John 15, Jesus says to abide in Him. Abiding means making a home. It means to make Jesus the place that declare to be yours. We measure everything else in our lives by it’s distance from home. So everything in my life has to be measured in how close to or how far away from my Jesus it takes me. Because Jesus is home.

I learned that home is not a physical place. Home is any place that moves my heart closer to the lover of my soul. It’s something that draws you in to be filled. And when you are full, you still feel yourself wanting more though you lack nothing.

I have found home. Home is in the presence of my friends as we laugh and share life. Home is in sharing meals with pastors and children overseas. Home is the coming together with my family (biological and spiritual) to proclaim the goodness of my Lord.

Yes, I have found my home.

Day 7

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The Experience of Running

Some days it is a simple as just trying to survive the next mile. Some days it’s the gentle refrain of “Don’t pass out. Don’t throw up.Don’t die.” Some days when it’s over I feel like a failure, question my sanity, and contemplate giving it all up. But most days, it’s not at all like that.

I pull on my running clothes, lace up my shoes, and hit the road. I turn on my running playlist or a podcast and tap record on whatever run tracker I happen to be using that day. The first few steps, however reluctant, feel a bit awkward and stiff, but still I press on.

My mind races as my heart rate slowly climbs. I slowly begin to extend my stride and roll my shoulders back. I inhale just a little bit deeper as my body temperature begins to rise. I’m almost half a mile in. The first song fades out as I exhale slowly.

I pick up my pace just a tad as sweat slowly begins to form at my hairline. I inhale more deeply as my lungs begin to feel the strain of the pace. My feet begin to fall in a steady pattern as my arms swing forward gently in rhythm. My racing thoughts begin to slow as my heart rate steadily climbs. “You know you can quit” says a weak thought in my mind. “Just make it past the first mile,” says a little bit louder voice in my head.

As my run tracker notifies me that I have completed 1 mile, the voice telling me to quit falls silent. My thoughts are now calm and peaceful. The cadence of my feet hitting the pavement complements the now steady pace of my beating heart. I breathe in deeply and exhale long breaths. I have found my pace as song #2 ends.

In the silence of my own thoughts, I hear the voice of the Lord breaking through the sound of my headphones and the syncopated rhythms of my body. It’s here in these moments that I hear His voice most clearly. My racing body stills my racing mind, and I hear the Father’s words spoken over me so clearly.

“You are my child. You are a shepherd of my people. You are loved.” These words echo in my mind as I continue on to the next mile. It’s in these moments that whatever I have been avoiding talking to the Father comes to the surface. When my mind is using all of its energy to keep my body going, it has no strength to keep the walls up and hide my struggles.

Even if by the end of my run I have no answer for what ails me, I can rest assured of His heart for me. I cannot focus on all the lies my mind conjures when I am trying to keep my body moving. It is in these moments that God so clearly reveals Himself. When I am most vulnerable, the Father rewards my vulnerability with intimacy.

I know not everyone ends their run with satisfaction. Not everyone spends time with the Lord on their run. For me, running is an act of worship. It’s an incredible opportunity to do something I love with the Lord. So I really can’t relate when people say they hate running. I can’t hate something that always brings me closer to God.

This is why I love running. This is why I run.