Wednesday, December 10, 2014

All Is Calm

Last year I had the incredible honor of writing for a Christian website called Audacious. I mentioned on this blog that I had written a few posts and linked you over to the website. Due to funding, the site no longer exists. I've been struggling with that all year, I think. I was so excited to have a place to write and improve as a writer. When it went away, I felt kind of tricked. Like Lucy with the football. Have this great opportunity to expand and-- oh wait, just kidding. I stopped writing shortly after the website came down. I wrote a little for my book reviews but not much. Things kind of stopped. 

As I drove home tonight, I had a pretty intense conversation with God. I shared some fears and insecurities and then listened for an answer. I'm so high stress right now (finals week at university, Christmas, emergencies/alerts at university, general job stress, holiday shoppers…) that I know I don't take enough time to listen. 
I happen to have a copy of a post I wrote for Audacious last December open on my desktop. As I re-read it I realized it is still true for me. As I have been reminded over the years, sometimes a good lesson takes awhile to learn and for it to really sink in, you need to hear it again. And again. 
I needed to hear it again. Maybe you do too. 

Christmas caroling around the community with my church family has become one of my most cherished Christmas traditions. I love listening to and singing Christmas music all year round. One of the many perks of living alone is that there is no one to complain when I start the Christmas music in July. But really, nothing quite beats walking around in the freezing cold, in hats and scarves and gloves, singing "Joy to the World." Nothing. 
However, over the years, my work schedule has gotten so busy that I am usually unable to make it to our Christmas caroling night. This year a close friend begged me to come. Begged. Thanks to a sympathetic supervisor and a slow day at work, I was able to arrange some things so I could finally attend. Easy peasy.
Ha. Life never is, is it? 
Even though I was so excited that I was finally able to participate in the one event I have missed over the years, I left work late, leaving what felt like 100 things unfinished. I texted my friend before I left work. "Do not leave without me. I will cry if you do."  I drove as fast as the speed limit would let me, still getting to the church almost 10 minutes late. Almost as soon as I stepped foot in the church, we were off to our first stop. 
It wasn't until we were on our second or third song that I realized I wasn't enjoying myself. I had been stressing out and running high on adrenaline for the last couple of hours. I was finally able to spend time with my church family and all I felt was stress. I could feel the frustration building up inside my heart. I was stressing about work things. Had I remembered to tell my supervisor…? I was stressing about the cold and the snow. I was stressing about…well, pretty much everything.
And then I heard it. Those beautiful words of the hymn:
Silent night. Holy night. All is calm. All is bright. Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child. Holy Infant, so tender and mild. Sleep in heavenly peace. Sleep in heavenly peace. 
One second, I was singing. And the next? Well, the next I stood there with tears falling down my face. All is calm? Hardly. Heavenly peace? Where can I get some of that? Oh Lord,  I prayed,  I am so far from calm at this moment. So far from the peace that you promise. Please calm my heart. Grant me peace.
And as we sang the rest of that song, it felt like I was hearing for the very first time that Jesus came to bring us peace and grace. That in our fear and trembling, the angels were bringing good news of a Savior. That this thing we celebrate every December 25th, Jesus putting skin on and stepping into our world, isn't just for children. 
It's for me. 
Even on the stressful, messy days? Yes. Even then. And guess what? It's for you too! 
Even on your messy days? Yes. Even then. Especially then.

Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 
LUKE 2:9-11

(Originally published December 8, 2013 for Audacious)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Faith of our Fathers

 Faith of our fathers, living still,
In spite of dungeon, fire and sword;

O how our hearts beat high with joy

Whenever we hear that glorious Word!

When I got my new job, I had to switch the church service I attended. For the longest time, I was a solid second service girl. Enough time to sleep in, make it to Sunday school (on a good morning) and then service. As long as the preacher didn't go too long, breakfast was just wearing off by the end of the sermon, making you the right amount of content and hungry. At this point you were happy and content enough to pay attention and talk to other congregation members, but hungry enough to not forget the time. If you had kids under ten, there was no way you would forget that lunch needed to happen soon after the final "Amen."

Faith of our fathers, we will strive
To win all nations unto Thee;

And through the truth that comes from God,

We all shall then be truly free.

I was sure the thing I would miss the most (besides all the sleep) was the music from second service. Second service was for the young, hip kids (and kids at heart) who liked drums and a good bass line. We sang songs that you stood for, clapped hands for, raised hands for and sometimes, even cried over. This was the service that gave you permission to talk to God in a language void of words like "bulwark" and "fortress."

Faith of our fathers, we will love
Both friend and foe in all our strife;

And preach Thee, too, as love knows how

By kindly words and virtuous life.

 So when I found myself crying over the hymn, Faith of our Fathers, it surprised me. Not a bad thing or a wrong thing, just a surprising thing. I started singing this hymn and I got through the first verse just fine. The problem came when I tried to sing the verse.

 Faith of our fathers, holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death.

The words stopped in my throat. In spite of dungeon, fire and sword. The children in the Middle East who were currently experiencing the "sword" part of that verse jarred me out of my easy Sunday morning routine. I started praying.

Lord how is this happening? How do things like this pass your desk? What do these children know about sacrifice? I know you are in control of all things and allow things to happen for reasons I will never understand, but how is this happening? 

The faces of children I knew in my church who had recently professed faith came to mind. I couldn't help it. This is where I lost it. I was standing there in the middle of the church, hymnal hugged to my chest, weeping over the faith of children everywhere. I wept for their families. I wept for the sacrifice. I wept at the loss. I trusted God to turn my tears into prayers and encouragements for the families mourning the loss of their children. I surely could not do it justice.

How do you cope when Faith of our Fathers leads to the beheading of children?
I wanted to be angry at God. I wanted to rail at Him for allowing … what? People to choose faith above life? To test them on it?
This is something I can do every day. I live in a country that allows me to choose my faith and worship freely. I forget that other countries and other Christians around the world do not have that luxury.

If some of this feels disjointed, it is because I don't have answers to these questions. I don't have political statements or solutions.
I just know that my heart is breaking for the children and the families that are literally choosing to be true to Christ until death.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Pray for Scotland

If you've been paying attention to the news, you might know today is a big day for Scotland. 

Today they vote on whether they want to be an independent nation or remain part of the United Kingdom. 

I've been trying to pay attention to all of the articles that are out there (and there are a lot) and listen to both sides of this discussion. I've read articles that talk about what the Yes vote will mean for the future of Scotland and what it will mean for other countries and leaders around the world. I've read articles that talk about the importance of the No vote for the stabilization of economy, as just a starting point. 
I've been really conflicted on both sides of this discussion over the past few weeks, agreeing with the Queen that people need to "think very carefully about the future." 

I found some tweets from Annie Downs this morning that really opened my eyes. I will confess, I read them not only looking for information about the vote, but also hoping to find what side she fell on in this debate. Maybe to help me have an opinion that was consistent with the Scottish people's voice, I don't know. 

But you know what? She cut through all the political talk about the vote. She titled her post "Today, we pray for Scotland." She shared some information links about the vote to help Americans understand what is at stake today. But in the end? She reminded her readers that at the end of the day, we need to pray for the people. Stand with our brothers and sisters in Scotland. Pray for revival in Scotland. Pray for the future of this country. 

It is so much more than a "yes" or a "no" vote today.  

I sit here far away from Scotland and Annie, but my heart is with them both. I am ashamed for thinking that this was just a simple vote. I forgot that our purpose in life is not to reduce people to the number of votes that come in on any particular political issue. There are real life people behind those votes and today I am praying for them. I am praying that God will give peace to the people and bring revival to that place, no matter the outcome of today's vote.

This rest of this post is taken from Annie's blog.  Join us in praying for Scotland. 

Will you join me in praying for Scotland today?

Here is what I’m praying:
–> For revival in Scotland (here’s a great article about that)
–> For the future of that nation politically.
–> For the rescue and salvation of relationships between Scots on the “yes” and “no” side, no matter the result. I have watched dear friends on both sides of the issue argue on Facebook, and everyone is seriously passionate, and I’m praying that God would give them the ability to reunite despite the harsh words and deep opposing feelings. Praying peace for all the hearts.
–> For God to do what only He can do- use this to draw the Scottish people to Himself.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

When Your Hands Shake

I would be lying if I said last week wasn't hard. There is death and destruction all around us in this great big world and sadly, no one is safe from it. There is war and political unrest that is tearing apart homes, cities, and families.
I don't watch the news for this reason. Unfortunately, that doesn't stop these atrocities from happening. It lessens my awareness but doesn't change the situation.
I can't help thinking I'm not alone in my-not-watching-the-news world, but something happened this week that made me stop and pay attention.

Two words.
Robin Williams.

After hearing the news and thinking on it for a few days, I said to my mom, "I'm really sad and I can't figure out why. I know I didn't know him but his death makes me feel sad and hurt. I don't really get it."
She thought about it for a while and then she said something that I hadn't thought of before: "He made you laugh. When people can bring you to that place, you form a connection to them. It's like they understand what you find funny and it feels like a personal connection. It's the universality of comedians, I think. They make us laugh when they make fun of something that happens to everyone, like family dynamics or how we act in a grocery store when people in front of us take too long to decide on an item. But in the end, strangers don't make you laugh, you know? Friends do that."

Before she finished talking, I found myself nodding in agreement. Comedians have an interesting place in our lives. They are wholly outside of our everyday, however we end up feeling very close to them. Also, they are comedians. They are professionally funny. Surely they don't suffer from depression or illness?

Losing Robin Williams reminds me that this isn't the case. Sometimes being funny just another way of dealing with pain and addiction. Losing Robin Williams reminds me that depression and mental illness don't see our successes but focuses on our failures. It doesn't see our wealth but shows us where we are poor.

Today at church, I saw an old family friend and his wife. We used to go to the same church years ago and after we moved to my current church, they followed us shortly after. My parents got pretty involved kind of quickly, but this other couple didn't for whatever reason. I don't see them very often and honestly, I'm not even sure they would remember me. But today as we were singing our last hymn, I happened to look over at them. He was standing, holding a shaking hymnal in his hand, struggling to find the page. I watched him, Parkinson's Disease rearing it's ugly head close to home. I cried. I cried for the suffering he was facing. I cried for Robin, understanding only a tiny portion of what it must have been like to get a diagnosis like that.

But after my tears stopped, I looked over again at the couple. Now they were both standing, the troublesome hymnal safely stored in the pew rack. They stood together. Not singing, but standing in solidarity. Sometimes when our hands shake, we just want to know that someone else is there. 

I don't know what life has thrown your way recently. I don't know if everything is coming up sunshine and roses for you. I don't know if this is the 10th day in a run of horrible no-good days for you. But I do know that no matter what is going on, there is someone in your life who is willing to listen to you and offer help. If things are going great for you right now, maybe YOU are that person for someone else. Sometimes conversations about depression and the bad days of life are hard to have but I promise they are important.