When the Future Changes

There were two men in my life. They both wanted to officiate my wedding. They both decided – separately – that if they never met the man I married, I wasn’t allowed to get married. Or, as one of them clarified, if I did get married without them, they’d act like the marriage was a figment of my imagination until they could reinact the ceremony with their involvement. (I didn’t dare act like they weren’t serious.) 

Both Terry and Ray jokingly-but-not-so-jokingly fought each other as they planned for my future wedding together as far as who would get most of the limelight as the officiator of my wedding, who got to kiss my cheek first and who got to harass my groom the best. 

I could never decide if their surrogate- fatherly arguments warmed my heart or added to my anxiety. Usually, I just laughed instead of focusing on the confusion. I was loved, that’s what I needed to remember. I was 16 and both these men had higher dreams for my future than I did. When I nearly ruined my life with childish decisions at 19 years old, they both spent hours (and I mean hours) almost daily on the phone talking me through my decisions and asking me the hard questions no one else wanted to ask. 

Both of these men passed away within a year of each other.  It didn’t hit me until last night for some reason that neither of these men get to see my wedding. Neither of these men get to ask me the hardest questions of all: “Can you support this man when he seems unsupportable? Can you make him laugh when all you want to do is make him cry? Can you show him Christ when all you want to do is show him yourself?” 

Even at 16, they warned me about those questions. They told me what they wanted the answers to be and what they would do if my answers didn’t represent Christ. They were futuristically minded when I couldn’t be. They cared more for my future than almost any other nonrelated acquaintance ever had.

They didn’t plan on not being around to help me grow up, but they prepared me for the future just in case they weren’t.

What if we discipled like that more often? What if we strove to be involved with our mentees but prepared them to be just as godly, wise and prepared without us as they are when they are with us? What if we didn’t shield them from hard things but rather taught them that they can prepare for a storm before it comes? 

What if we discipled in such a way that those we disciple don’t pine after us after we’re gone but rather strive to immulate the Christ-like characters we focused on the most?

A Lesson From An Atheist

Our differences are stark:
He’s a “man’s man who don’t need no woman.” I’m every type of tomboy imaginable but I still look for sentimentality in stupid places and love leaning on the man of my heart.

My friend is an atheist. I’m a Christian. 
He thinks I need more rights as a woman. I couldn’t disagree more.

He’s black. I’m so white I’m translucent.

He can’t stand “the system.” Though it rubs against my every day activities, I’ve learned to roll with the punches unless it’s biblically and morally uncalled for.

Our similarities crack me up:

We both love to argue.

We both like to argue.

In case you missed it, we both love to argue.

We both know how to source our facts.

We both hate politics, but our shared desire for justice makes most of our conversations about things we need to see change in this country.

There is nothing more comical than putting a determined atheist in a friendship with a stubborn follower of Jesus Christ. Many o’ times, one of us (usually me) calls a time out on our heated arguments about Jesus, religion, women’s rights, marriage, children and every other hot topic because our friendship matters more than our opinions. Too many times, I’ve wandered into the Throne Room screaming, “Why, Jesus?!” when the arguments can’t end on agreeable terms. I’ve been told a time or two this guy would love it if he could just program me to “get it.”

No matter how much our differences heat us up, though, we stop when our respect for each other is threatened. I have my boundaries, he has his. Crossing those boundaries is not allowed, especially if we feel like the other person’s value is undermined because of our disagreement. It’s acceptable to be passionate about something the other person is not. It’s also acceptable to shut up for a while. It’s even acceptable to decide talking till you agree isn’t worth sacrificing the friendship itself.

It is not acceptable, however, to devalue another person or attempt to strip them of their opinion because it makes you uncomfortable. 

Being acclaimed as right is nice, I’ll give you that. But sometimes, the people that are able to stand strongly by simply living out their views in how they treat others will leave the most impact.

Seeing the Unseen

I’ve never wanted to stay in America. It was bad enough when God pulled me out of the ministry in Alaskan villages. I came to the Midwest with a silent understanding that I would stay just long enough and then… I could leave. Basically, I forgot that when I tell God, “We have a deal” it’s beneficial to get the Divine Head Nod before I start telling people God and I have a deal.

I am currently surrounded by a subculture of Christianity which puts a million-to-one emphasis (*slight exaggeration, but you get the point) on reaching the Nations. That means leaving the Bible Belt of Indiana, in case you were wondering. When I came to the Midwest four years ago, I chanted (metaphorically) with the best of them. I’m in one of the most churched towns in Indiana. Do ministry? Here?!  In this town? But why? How?

Reach the Nations? Yeah, no. Not here. Its not… Um, I don’t know. Its just not… It just lacks… something. I’m a missionary transplant. You don’t take a missionary out of the trenches and put them in this town. That’s uncalled for, isn’t it? I could do so much more in the Philippines, Indonesia, China, Africa… Anywhere! What the heck can I do here?!

After I came back to the Lord in 2010, I started saying that, “God has called me to the unseen.” Before you freak out and think I meant I saw demons, no, that’s not what I meant. In reality, my just-off-the-press experiences as a closet-Christian had made me well aware of how easily struggling Christians and/or ostracized non-Christians fall between the cracks. I found myself drawn to the people ignored within the churches, rather than the high profile challenge on the street corner.

But still, regardless of that perspective, I wanted (and only saw) those people if their skin wasn’t white. Ironic, no? Talk about wrong-side-out racial conflict. I’m not proud of that.

God hasn’t been subtle in calling my sin into the spotlight. When I strive to “see the unseen,” how dare I put weight in one person’s spiritual healing over the other? If God has called me to Indiana, how dare I tell Him its not good enough because the Culture Shock isn’t as easily identified as it would be if I was in a place like Guatemala? 

Recently I saw pain so deep, it shook me to the core. As I bit back tears and the all-too-familiar feeling of Spiritual Warfare, I caught a glimpse of the street sign my companions and I were passing. I was entering into Warfare, and I was in Indiana. I could feel God whisper, “Loving people is what I made you for” and I was in Indiana. 

Americans, we are no longer steady on our feet when it comes to ministry. If we send everyone to the enthralling and exciting zip codes, we have no one for the people still wounded within our churches here. Be passionate for your neighbor directly across the street just as much as you’re passionate for the concept of feeding orphans and living in grass huts. 

Don’t take as long as I did to figure it out. The souls being ignored here in America are still important.

Pain Helps Me

“Wait, my friend told me you have a pacemaker? I have a pacemaker!”

I’ll be honest, that was the last pick-up line I ever thought I’d hear anywhere. Subconsciously, I put my hand over the scar above my collar bone and made eye contact with the inquirer. I call my Vegal Nerve Stimulator a “pacemaker-like thing” to nonmedical people because most people couldn’t care less what epilepsy-related operations I’ve had.

What the heck was I supposed to do with someone who has an actual pacemaker?

Living in a small town affords for random people hearing my medical story from other super random people. Too often, self-made storytellers get my story wrong, though. I come to my quiet coffee shop in the mornings to get some alone time, but there has been more than one occasion where God whispers to my heart, “You and I have all morning. This person needs you.”

Sometimes, I act like I don’t hear Him. That’s when I discover God has a sense of humor as He throws me into super awkward pick-up conversations.

Twice I’ve been set up to chat with people who are still getting their minds around the fact that they need hardware in order to survive. Once, the man had only had his pacemaker for a month. This morning, my random new friend was processing having a pacemaker for a year and still facing complications. 

My story doesn’t feel similar. I’ve been post-operation for eight years now.

If it was up to me, I wouldn’t talk about my pain with these people. First off, I don’t know them. Second off, my pain is regulated and in the background. Their pain is most assuredly in the foreground. It doesn’t seem fair to them to be lumped in the same category. My pain means chest-pain and thirty seconds where I can’t control my head movement. Totally different from people who can’t trust their heart to keep beating.

But, it’s interesting how God shows up despite the fact that these strangers’ facts about my life are inaccurate. I’ve learned to chuckle when I’m asked about my “pacemaker scar” from someone I don’t know. Then, without much effort, I ask the only question I wish people asked rather than asking me if I was, “doing okay, today.” 

“What’s your new normal and how has that new normal made you look for Jesus?”

I sat with a total stranger today and discussed how pain is a conduit for God’s grace, rather than a cause for depression. As I walked away from my newest comrade, she smiled and asked a question I never thought I’d hear.

“Isn’t it weird how our pain makes Jesus’ love show up in a deeper way?” 

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.

No Longer Expert

I never wanted to be an expert.

A friend called me yesterday to recount a chance he had to help a man having a seizure. My friend told me everything he did for the student seizing. Some things he said confidently… Some not so confidently. The questions he peppered me with were typical of someone who has never had their brain betray them. It made me smile, but then he said it again:

“I guess you’d know. You’re somewhat an expert in that area aren’t you?”

Michael sarcastically entitled the event exciting. Knowing the surrounding facts, that the kid seizing fell into the street and had never seized before, I interpreted it with the reality. It was bloomin’ terrifying. In all our years of friendship, my childhood friend had only heard horror stories and seen smaller seizures. We’d had so many conversations of “what to do if” though, during the years we lived closer, I trusted him more than I trusted anyone. 

“You did everything right, Dude. The kid should be okay. You did everything right.”

As the conversation came to a close, I muttered under my breath, “Lord, what if one of the only reasons you allowed me to have epilepsy was so Michael could correctly support this stranger? Even though You’ve given so many other blessings despite the curse, what if teaching Michael what to do was the only reason? Would that have been enough for my heart? Is my faith strong enough to say my epilepsy was worth it because of that one unseen show-casing of Your glory?”

American Christians have this habit of always asking God, “What’s in it for me?” Even in light of a disease, we justify having issues if we can see the benefit. Like getting called an expert and being given respect. Or feeling God lead us to sell everything and leave our home, only agreeing because there’s a rumor we’ll get a pay raise.

We face turmoil because we’re banking on the fact that it’ll pay off for us someday. The fact is, as followers of Christ, the pay-off shouldn’t matter. When we mutter, “Use me however You want” that should be enough. We have no idea what part our story plays in the grander plan of the Creator of the universe.

He is, after all, the Ultimate Expert.

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.