Prodigal Mind, Redeemed Soul

My life has been filled with asking God’s forgiveness and <trying to> force His permission.  Two years ago, that approach to Christianity was ripped to shreds when the kingdom I had built for myself was demolished. Christianity became about Christ being alive in me; not me being alive with Christ showing up on occasion. Learning to surrender on a daily, hourly and minutely basis has been an unfathomable adventure. 
Recently in a reference letter, I was described as a prodigal. I chuckled and wiped away tears as the remainder of the letter explained why my story blessed fellow Christians rather than scarred them. 

For some reason, I never expected God’s redemption to go as deeply as it does. It’s a beautiful thing when I look at my best friend and I know he only sees scars, not seeping wounds. 

It can be a terrifying mental trip trying to protect that redemption. I often forget that though my life in Christ is my responsibility, I myself am (hallelujah) Christ’s charge. What I can’t handle, He can. What I don’t understand, He does. 

A couple days ago, as I sat haggling over whether I was pleasing God “enough,” I broke down crying. The what ifs are intimidating. As a redeemed and treasured prodigal concerned I’m not hearing God correctly for my future, it’s ulcer-forming. That particular day, I wasn’t getting the “go-ahead” I thought God and I had set up to guarantee I was doing things correctly. 

Fine, Jesus. I really don’t know what to do anymore. I’m done. You get the pieces of this mess. Do your thing. Get me out of the way. I…I surrender. Help me. Help me surrender. 

Believe me when I tell you I expected silence after that prayer. I expected the arbitrary reminder that God’s peace and grace were enough… As if that would silence the questions in my mind. 

Instead of holy silence, as I muttered “I surrender” God gave me the answer I needed along with total peace. 

It was as if I heard God whisper, “I just wanted you to give up control. I just wanted you to trust that I know your heart’s desire. I wanted you to surrender control, but even more than that, I needed you to surrender the idea that you have Me figured out. I love you, sweet Child. You are no longer a Prodigal, you’re a Child I treasure. You didn’t hear from Me for so long because you weren’t looking for Me, you were looking for your comfortzone.”

We talk so often of surrendering plans and “control” to God. What about surrendering the expectations of what God will do after we surrender?

The Detested & Invisible Man

Lord, if I’m supposed to risk something, make the guy look at me.

He never looked at me, but I recognized the rotten teeth, spastic eye movement and freaky paranoia. His prized possession seemed to be a stack of (what appeared to be) 100 copied missing person fliers. Something was seriously wrong in his life. 

I’ve been in Indiana too long. Once upon a time, my first move would have been to approach him and get his story, risking my safety simply because I know what it is to be hopeless and lonely. Now, though, all I found myself doing was running through statistics in my head for how long it would take him to get down off whatever high he was on. 

I seemed to be the only one watching him in the otherwise crowded market. For some reason, I felt anything but safe. I recognized his loneliness, though. His fear and hopelessness were old friends of mine as well. 

He bolted out of the room before I could get him to focus on me long enough to get his attention. I have no idea whether or not I missed a prime opportunity to love a stranger. I have no idea if I was intended to shed some light where, instead, I added to the noise of his confused brain. I just don’t know. 

Though I was later told my hesitation was wise, my heart broke for the man who seemed invisible. I wonder how differently he could have battled the war in his mind if anyone had been willing to identify with his emotions rather than judge his actions? 

I just wonder – What would happen if the redeemed of the Lord were willing to see sin and say, “I remember when” rather than, “Oh, but that was never me.”

There are those who have never been able to identify grace in their own lives. What if we made grace available by making our own stories of searching for grace relatable? What if we didn’t stop at simply dangling grace over their heads? 

What if we really did act like Jesus? 

Open Letter to a 501(c)3

Dear Noprofit Advocates,

This is not meant as a shaming letter. I love your passion for orphans, refugees, sex trafficked victims and any other type of mission you’ve shared with me. I love knowing God gave you that passion for a reason. I even love your boldness in standing in front of hundreds of college students and presenting your organization’s financial needs. That takes guts. Good job.

I agree with you. All you’re asking us to do is give up four coffees a month in order to support your passion-focus. You even go as far to point out that if we set a goal with a friend, we would give up less. (We’re going to ignore the fact that people like me would give up bread before we give up our coffee.) It’s a doable sacrifice for an overwhelming need. It helps that all of you are immaculate storytellers. Good job only focusing on the needs and not giving past successes. That makes it harder to say no.

Is it possible that’s what you wanted? Why can’t this be about joining you in praising God for what He’s already done and merely talking about how we’re called to support these group together? Maybe becase that’d make it easier to walk by your table with the darling kiddos’ faces staring at me without opening my wallet?

Before I go any further, please know I completely understand what it’s like raising support. My parents were missionaries and there were a few times as a kid I was confused that a pastor would invite us to speak and then no one joined the bandwagon. It’s hard not shaming people into supporting you or your passion when you know the need firsthand.

Can I share with you what I learned as I watched God provide despite what I didn’t see coming from those churches? The reality is, if every family in the pews spread their resources through every mission that walked through the door, none of the missions would feel helped. They would all feel like the people were merely doing it for the tax write off or spiritual pat on the back – not because they knew God wanted to use them financially to support something bigger than themselves. 

So, I humbly ask you to not cheapen the gifts you receive by shaming those who can’t or don’t give. Certainly, there are those who can give and don’t, but that’s none of your business. That’s between them and the Lord. But many of the God-fearing Believers in your audiences don’t give because they are already giving all they have toward something else. 

I’ll say it again, I love your passion for your organization. However, please work against playing the Judge over how many people you need to join your cause in order to get your yearly goal met. If everyone gave, if every college student sacrificed, I wonder how much less applause God would get simply because you could explain it away as good busines and financial stewardship?

You have your passions. I have mine. You can be guaranteed I have searched my heart to see if God wants me to join you in your passion. Some of your missions He has given me permission to give money to; others of you, I am that dejected college student that has learned to walk past your table with her head down.

Challenge us to pray. Challenge us to speak our questions. Challenge us to pray again, then watch God work miracles without your help.

No shame necessary.

I will join you on my side of the world proclaiming God’s faithfulness if you promise to do the same.

Sincerely,

A Pensively Challenged College Student

Check-listed Forgiveness

I idolize check-lists. I’m not a person who has to physically check off a task, but regardless, I need to know what I’m supposed to do next. You’ll get a blank stare and a few pointed questions if the extent of your offer is, “Come over whenever you want.” Mkay, great. What time is “whenever”? What do I bring? How long am I expected to be there? Is there a reason I’m coming over?

Are you expecting anything from me?

My “check-list mentality” makes Christianity intrinsically heartwrenching. It’s especially frustrating when I stand in front of the concept of forgiveness. I wronged you, you forgive me… Now, what do I do next? How many times do I need to bring it up again before it’s obsolete? Do you need me to do something before you purely love me as deeply as you did before I wronged you? 

Asking those questions towards another human being is called survival. I have learned with many that when they say, “I forgive you” what they mean is, “I’ll say something I don’t mean because I don’t want to be seen as a jerk.” Forgiveness doesn’t erase anger, but it should erase shame. Because humans are, well, humans, that doesn’t happen as often as it probably should.

But what about asking those questions when I’ve wronged my holy and righteous God and savior? Have I ever needed to ask God what His stipulations were for forgiving me? Have I ever had to look at that gift and then sheepishly ask God, “So, for how long is that mine this time? Two years? A week? What do I need to do to help you continue holding my ineptness over my head? What deals can I make with you so you won’t be angry any longer?”

No. I’ve never had to do that. He’ll listen to my train of thought, sure. But I can almost hear his heart break every time I try to add my own magic to His already perfect forgiveness.

When God sent His Son to die on the cross and Jesus’ death and resurrection paid the debt of my sin, my checklist was ripped to shreds. It’s as if He handed me a new list with only one entry:

1. You are Mine.

Being Like Christ is Enough?

I’m so done pursuing them. After being brushed off  for the third time, that was my only angrily hurt thought. Who needs friendships? I’m just.. Done. D-O-N-E, Lord. Ya hear me? Done! It gets old when you’re friendship is only observed when they need something from you. Telling God I was done felt justifiably good.

Inevitably, God brought two things to mind. The first being a story near to my heart of a man who pursued a woman for over a year with no apparent understanding that his pursuit wasn’t appreciated nor reciprocated. When the woman stepped away, he stepped closer in friendship anyway. He knew what God was calling him to do. It never seemed as if much else mattered; he was on a mission. The man still acts as if he won’t give up until God tells him his mission is complete.

Though the couples’ story still brings a smile to my face, God’s second reminder sent a chill up my spine. God’s pursuit of me. I was reminded of God’s beautiful pursuit of the risk-taking, independant, don’t-need-anyone girl. I was the girl who, even when she had nothing, swore she’d never come back to Christianity. Yet little by little, God proved he could run faster than me. He never stopped giving me reasons to look for him.

What if He had given up? What if he had felt my cold responses one too many times and stopped being available? 

There are times where backing away from a friendship is beneficially the right choice. I’m not a stranger to that need. However, I think we as humans make that call too often; maybe even too quickly. The second we face friction, we decide we’re done. No one would really blame us anyway, right?

As a believer in Jesus Christ, I am called to so much more, though. I’m not merely called to being a poster-child for Christ’s mercy. I’m called to be Christ-like and Christ-filled. 

Even when Christ feels the sting of rejection, he continues to pursue with love in undeniable ways. When was the last time I chose love over anger? When was the last time I chose to answer in love rather than making promises to never try again? When was the last time I was satisfied looking a friend in the eye and telling them they knew where to find me when they wanted actual friendship?

With that, I can only choose to let God pick up my bruised heart and whisper, “Teach me how to love even when I don’t get loved in return.” After all, being Christ-like will never mean I’m ultimately liked.

Living Beyond Assumptions

All he did was asked questions over an article. 

His eyes got as big as saucers as I explained the medical journey behind the 1,800 word synopsis being offered to a publication company. One explanation led to another… And another… And another. The questions were painfully typical and mundane. I felt as if I was answering the curious questioner in my sleep. My writing had led me towards this type of impromptu interview before. 

But then, he said it:

“Wow. I guess you’re really not that frightening at all. Listening to your story, hearing you explain it, everything that made you super uncomfortable (to be around) makes so much more sense. I never would have guessed… Like, geez, you’re great.”

He smiled the smile of a man who wanted to be applauded for a gracious compliment. I smiled a smile that threatened to whisper, “Because I love Jesus, I won’t break your nose when I punch you.” I’m 26-years-old and people’s fears over my disabilities still make me crumble to the ground in tears. Being afraid of my disabilities is understandable.

But if you suffer silently through those fears, all you’re saying is that you’re afraid of me

I can’t say I’m much better than this poor man who has become a victim of my sarcasm. I giggle at the differences within the disabled community because, even though I may feel uncomfortable at times, I feel accepted. But don’t you dare ask me to be open in other areas.

My biggest fear and struggle is learning how to talk to an addict like an equal. They’re my equal? Wait… You mean they can hold a conversation?

This isn’t a discussion about right or wrong, normal or abnormal. Our society has become such a culture of hiding behind assumptions we have become our fears. 

My young friend saw my differences the moment he met me a year ago. He was too afraid to ask.

I have reasons to be afraid anytime I’m around a person who abuses drugs. I’ve been at the mercy of certain addicts’ evils before. But believe it or not, when you can get them talking, they simply want to be seen and reminded of their value. I often forget that because I can be too afraid to write an exception to my self-righteous rule.

I learned a long time ago that God never told me my comfort was His first concern. His command is to love those around me no matter the cost. 

If I live in fear of the unknowns, I’ll never experience the joy of living fully by loving those I don’t understand.

I Wish I’d Known

In most people’s eyes, I had everything a 22-year-old wanted. I had my independence, a great job, friends and accquaintances on both sides of the religious spectrum. I’d sown my oats and lived to tell about it. I needed nothing. 

I was voted “Most likely to get hitched and have 3 kids by 19” in school. At 22, I was about the only one who had never filed for a dependant on my taxes, left the country to explore or declared a pursuit of some high-falutin’ doctorate. As far as the dating thing went, let’s face facts, shall we? When your fellow 20-somethings harken back to school days and the once-popular football guys still chuckle that, “You don’t mess with Harris. She’s a piece o’ dynamite” you get friends, not dates.

With the ever increasing use of social media, I saw all my friends pass me up. Dating relationships, amazing careers, marriages, kids… Fame. They had it all it seemed, and I was stuck in the town where every time you sneezed the mayor requested a new weather report. 

I wanted to be noticed. I felt hidden. I wanted someone to want me… I felt overlooked. People said my high-end(ish) job made me successful. I felt stuck and taken for granted. This was adulthood? Would I ever see beyond the 7,500 people who could still recall in great detail what buck-teethed, awkward 9-year-old me was like?

I missed out on so much because I was constantly comparing my journey to someone else’s or knocking on Heaven’s door asking for a preview of my exciting life 15 years down the road. I wanted everything that wasn’t mine to have. Very rarely did I giggle at the silence and dance when the music stopped.

No one ever told me my desire for more would make my life have meaning if I could be content. The last words out of my mouth at night wanted to be, “Thanks, I guess, for my loneliness, my boredom, my routine, my annoying ho-hum, do nothing life. Yay air. Amen.” To be content in those things? What was the point in moment-by-moment, not fantasy-by-fantasy or expectation-by-expectation?

Doing that would require being content in the constant Person of Jesus Christ. That would require being accepting of the fact that experience builds character, and sometimes that character has nothing to do about me. Contentedness means appreciating loneliness and routine because, if I’m willing to listen, I’ll have more time to pray for people and be a part of an unseen battle.

At 22, no one saw the need to tell me my “stupid routine life” mattered. As a 26-year-old, I wish I had known then the joy of sacrificing my expectations at the feet of the Master who knew the beauty of my future.

I wish I had known the beauty of taking the time to ponder the vastness of never being bigger than the God I serve.

Speaking Unknown Languages

This morning, I found myself reliving the past and cherishing the present. 

I laughed at the blessing of what I have surrounding me this Christmas Eve. I’ve been given memories I’ll never forget, loved ones I’ll always cherish… I can’t thank God enough for all these things. My worlds have officially collided. Every time I see strangers becoming family around my parents’ dinner table, I can hear God whisper, “This is both a reminder of eternal redemption you can’t run from & a gift of absolute love.” 

But still, in this quiet morning where memories can flow without interruption, I found myself missing Ohio. Last year, I was a guest in a friend’s home; a cherished stranger-made-family. I could have easily felt like a fish out of water, but I rarely did. 

Hearing German, Korean and Japanese happened often during that Christmas. Every once in a while, I’d throw in some Sign Language just to make my friends giggle… At times, my surrogate German-Mama would forget to speak English when addressing me and the kitchen would erupt in laughter at the confusion. 

Last Christmas Eve, in four different languages, we sat down and told the Christmas Story. As Jesus’ birth was celebrated simultaneously in each language, I laughed for fear of crying. 

It was a minuscule taste of what I can only imagine Heaven to be like. Voices raised with confidence, speaking the Truth of our Redeemer in our respective heart language. We shared knowing smiles as we let each other express our Jesus differently, knowing our bond would always hold some mystery. 

I’m surrounded by English speakers this year. Each time I hear snippets of the Christmas Story – Holy God coming to Earth as a baby to save His people – I smile. Jesus is so much more than a story.

He breaks down language barriers, cultural differences & economic struggles and creates family out of strangers. 

Ashamed to be Seen

It was cold outside. Her little nose was bright red, her ears already white with frostbite. As I carried her down the Shelter hallway to the room she would share with her parents, I bit back angry,  uncompassionate words at her parents. I didn’t know their story. I didn’t need to know their story.

All I knew was it was cold outside. We had an open bed. The three-year-old in my arms needed sleep.

As I sat my youngest charge on the bed, her parents unpacked their daughter’s small plastic bag filled with 2 shirts and a pair of pants. Thank you, Lord, for somehow at least providing this kiddo with a coat, I thought.

I shifted the girl from my lap to the bed and stood up to find the remaining paperwork for the adults in the room.

“That’s our bed, Sweetheart. Bed.. Yeah, you like it don’t you?” I heard the dad choke back tears as he paid attention to his little girl.

I made eye contact with the mom, trying to smile but positive my 22-year-old attempts at not being offensive failed miserably. Her mom answered the unspoken question with tears in her eyes.

“The only bed she’s had was a basinet when she was a baby. She’s always slept on me or a foam pad next to me. She’s… Yeah, you wouldn’t understand. Thanks for letting us spend the Christmas season here. At least she has a bed.”

I cried then. Not because their plight overwhelmed me, in all honesty, they were in pretty good shape compared to the others we had housed in the last weeks. I cried because she was the first client to bravely point out my judgmental spirit. Is that how she sees me, Lord? I cried out silently. Isn’t my purpose here to show love no matter the circumstances? She’s scared of me. What have I done? 

“You’re right, Ma’am, I don’t understand. I don’t have a toddler, but I’m sure she’s what has kept you going this far. We’ll talk more about what got you here when you’re ready. Let’s get you guys some food first.” I learned that day what it meant to take care of the small things God allows me to provide and to let Him handle the rest… void of judgment.

I was reminded of my winter at the shelter the other day as friends and I drove through a city in Ohio. As is typical for busy Ohio, homeless men speckled the highway. One man in particular broke my heart. His sign was nothing spectacular. The scrawled words Will Accept Anything Please Help were haphazardly placed on a cardboard sign. 

What hurt my heart was the fact that he didn’t dare look up at the faces passing by in the vehicles rushing down the highway. As the cars whooshed by, I saw his jaw tighten. I had seen that look of anger a thousand times before. As a man, there was no lower place to find yourself. I knew the lies he was feeding himself as one by one, my car included, no one sought him out.

Whatever your view is on panhandlers, I challenge you to change things up this Christmas season. I am not an advocate for giving cash simply because I don’t know the temptations that loom in that 10 dollar bill. I am, however, an advocate for reminding these men and women they are still a valuable part of the human race. Make eye contact with them. 

No matter how needy people may find themselves this Christmas season, no one deserves to feel shame for being seen.

Who knows, eye contact could lead to a meal for a hungry person. You may become the hands and feet of Jesus.

Melodic Memories

It’s just a piano, but it represents so much. As a toddler, it signified naptime at my mama’s feet. As a child, it was my fortress in endless games of sibling tag (read: sibling torture). As an ill teen, it signified time to unravel the harsh truths of loving music but being too sick to share a God-given gift with the world.

As an adult, it was just friendship. Hours and hours of my mom playing through every chorus and hymnal we could find. I’d practice artistic liberty while my mom bit back a smile when it didn’t sound so grand. Hymns like It Is WellSoftly and Tenderly or Sweet By & By brought on “remember whens” of the days playing piano was two females’ only respite from a cruel, confusing disorder.

It’s just a piano, but every time I see one, I smile. I unexpectantly choked back a laughing sob today when I realized how much this holiday season will change my perception of my mama’s piano.

Instead of just my mama and I, God is humorously and joyously adding a male singer to that duo… Wait. What? In all my years of tickling the pages of a hymnal, I never thought three people around my mama’s piano would be a reality.

Instead of closing the hymnal and promising to come back and sing more next week, I’ll be begging God for another chance to sit and make music around the piano with my mama at least annually. Wait, what? My mama’s piano is one of the only childhood memories I can recall without assistance. Getting to giggle and sing with my music-making mama once a year doesn’t seem like enough.

My pensive laughter turned into awe when I realized why I’m so shaken over this year’s changes. Sure, I’m focusing on my mother, her piano and holiday traditions, but I still can’t believe the grace of God these transitions represent.

I never thought I’d make it to 26. I never thought I’d be able to act on my dreams and talents. I never believed I’d live long enough to have to figure out Godly relationships, let alone get to figure them out.

I never thought I’d grow out of being the little girl whose only release was at the piano.

Yet as I prepare to embark on an insanely unexpected holiday season, I can only hear God chuckle and pull me in as He whispers, “I’ve given you all of this and so much more. When will you learn your life has purpose?”

It’s just a piano, but it signifies dreams that were written and left unspoken by a 15-year-old, only to be told years later by the Master of Heaven Himself.