Thursday, August 18, 2016

Hey from the Wongs

Here's a family update that somehow I (Clara) got talked into writing! We were not even close to the Christmas deadline, so please enjoy this Labor Day letter...or consider it the "we're really on top of it" Christmas 2016 edition!

Very first thing we want to say is that we're far from perfect, as individuals and as a family.

Second thing we want to say is that we more often than not fail to be grateful for the truth that we are great sinners with a great Savior. But He is why there is still love in this place, He is why we keep pressing on to perfection and He is why we have these blessings to share.

Dad still works as an engineer at MC3, designing medical devices to save lives! He recently practiced a professional presentation on the family, who politely nodded but were secretly pretty sure he was speaking another language. Last Saturday, he casually walked in with a massive chunk of beeswax and we all got our first taste of honey. This episode is the perfect example of “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Dad tried three times, and we’re all proud of his success, which is still dripping through a strainer on our countertop, waiting to be paired with a perfect piece of toast. Phil is a steady champ who continues to serve church, family and friends in all the ordinary stuff of life. You know you work hard when you’re tired enough to fall asleep to Michael Phelp’s winning his 21st gold...

Mom holds down our country fort with much love and has filled it with never-ending flowers and summer vegetables. This summer, she successfully grew gorgeous flowers for a wedding (see below), but they went nuts on us and we’ve had zinnias coming out of our ears ever since. It became such a state of emergency that flower petals showed up on our salads (!) Mom has a big and growing heart for the broken and is almost finished with her counseling program at CCEF. She’s getting ready to launch a counseling practice this fall and we’re so excited for her! She will also be teaching and tutoring through a homeschool co-op and will act as the home-base-momma-hen for all her scattered “chicks.”

Kathryn has no big news other than marrying a ginger giant, changing her last name to Lewis, going in a hot air balloon with him, and trading our beautiful home for a horse stable. They basically sleep in a manger. Kidding; amazingly, she and Jonathan get a rent-free studio apartment while they take care of miniature horses. They do pretty well for themselves; last time I visited, Kathryn made a killer casserole that blew our minds. Jonathan’s pot belly is well underway :) Kathryn will be finishing her final year at Hillsdale College, hoping to graduate in May with a major in Christian studies and double minor in French and Classical Education.

Jonathan fits right in (height and hair color aside). He is affectionately known as J-Lew, and we go bonkers (the good kind!) when the lovebirds pay a visit. Recently, J-Lew could be spotted in an airsoft battle with the guys in our small group. He is as deep as a thinker you’ll find and hopes to attend seminary somewhere, someday. For now he’s a carpenter and a teacher at a small private high school in Hillsdale.

I have enjoyed a summer of variety. There was being maid-of-honor in the wedding. Then there was being Captain Hook every Monday and Wednesday for Peter Pan (whom I babysat). On Cinderella days, I switched to starring as the stepmother, both step-sisters and Prince Charming at the same time (exhausting). Hanging out with some of her favorite kids all summer has included rigging pools at the bottom of the slide, reading enough books to win about 23 prizes at the library, and making a mechanism that blew bubbles bigger than my head. I also had the opportunity to visit Honduras, which prompted new questions and prayer. Next week, I'll start year two at Wheaton, where I'll begin studies to become a NURSE!

Do you need a paint job on your house? Ben’s your man. He’s spent the summer painting on roofs in 90-degree weather. He came home with hands the same color of houses he painted and enough sweat to fill a swimming pool. We’re proud of him for his work ethic. He graduated high school in May, from a middle college program where he earned a high school diploma and two associate degrees. He’s headed to Indiana Wesleyan University to study criminal justice. He’s also somehow found time to make homemade sushi, go to grad parties, and host spontaneous bonfires. He cracks us up with his occasional attempts at singing in the shower and his dry, understated humor.

Do you need a paint job inside your house? Josiah’s your man. He’s enjoyed repainting the interior of our church, Knox Presbyterian. Si loves books, naps, friends, and prank texting classmates to tell them he’s dropped out of school. He's often out and about playing soccer or bon firing with pals. He built tables for the newlyweds which blows us away because who “just know” how to do that? He completed his first triathlon and is planning to run the tough mudder this fall, which makes some of us say, “eek” and others of us say, “eeeeeek.” He’s about to start his junior year at Washtenaw International High School, where he will begin a two-year thesis-writing project, be a tear-jerker with his cello and continue to deepen friendships with his caring, winning personality.

EXCITING NEWS is that we hope to add another member to our family for the next few years! We met Nadia Ponce through Military Ave Church in Detroit and love her much. She is motivated and full of personality and we’re excited to have her with us as she starts high school. But we’ll let her speak for herself:

With lots of love to all,
The Wongs
Phil, Kristin, Kathryn, Clara, Benjamin, Josiah and Nadia

Thursday, July 7, 2016

10,000 Words, Boiled Down

Here I am on the other side of the whirlwind of a wedding and then a visit to Orphanage Emmanuel. Thanks to a caring Heavenly Father, I am very intact, although so congested I’m not sure how my body is taking in oxygen right now. 

The ups were breathtaking, the downs were heartbreaking. I processed every night by typing and the resulting document is over 10,000 words long. I'll try to boil it down here! 

Overall, I am really so grateful that God gave the opportunity to press in to things and relationships in Honduras rather than letting everything stay in the past as a closed door. There were doubtless times this past week when I thought, “WHY am I doing this? It is so painful to care about people so much! Is this really worth it?” It is. 

Visiting after a year away revealed both glimpses of beautiful redemption and honest wrestling about the way things stand in the world. More than anything else, this trip intensified the ache for Jesus to make things right again. That desire made its way into my prayers for the Honduran friends who have become very dear to me. The wrongness was heavy to bear, more than once causing a physical pain that could only end in crying out to God. 

I sat with a friend who came so close to running away from the orphanage this past year because she feels trapped, bored, lonely, hopeless. 

The toddlers who I was closest to seemed indifferent and lacked desire to engage. I think they’re burned out. So many people coming into their lives and vanishing just as quickly. I don’t know if I can do that to them again! 

A young mom who I was close to started testing my love by pinching and hitting me and in the end, saying I never paid enough attention to her and refusing to even look me in the eye and rejecting letters and hugs I tried to give, all the way through the last day of the trip. It never resolved. 

Another friend confided her frustration over a staff member who she frequently has to apologize to for cussing at. On Sunday morning, they led worship together. Appearance is one thing, but there is nasty conflict lurking beneath the surface. It was hard to bring myself to sing along. 

Another good friend (an older one) bit me and then stayed angry at me for a few days when I told her friends don’t bite each other. She finally came around but continued to try to get a rise out of me in all the wrong ways. 

An incident happened and the kids were disciplined in a way I just can’t agree with. Grace was really hard to recognize. 

The short-term teams had good intentions. We heard plenty of Jeremiah 29:11 messages from them, that God has a plan and purpose for our lives. But I found myself struggling to encourage my friends with that truth, because I had no accompanying tangible way to help them toward that plan and purpose. There was nothing to equip them with, no reality to meet with the vision. Just a future of growing up at an orphanage.

I saw people falling through the cracks. I saw efficiency but no discipleship. I painfully wished so many times that they could know the mentorship that has made me so much of who I am. 

These aren’t judgments on the orphanage. And they’re not to discount all the ways the Lord is moving in that place. But it is an open recognition of the horrible consequences of our sin and the raw reality of our fallen world. I don’t think anything has perplexed me more. Throughout the week, I mostly just listened, and then came to the end of days saying, “Jesus, this sucks. It just does. Please hurry and come, bring your Kingdom here for now, and speed up when you come and finish everything for eternity.  It seems like there’s no promise to make it better EXCEPT your promise of eternal life. That’s about all that keeps me from going crazy. I DO TRUST that you use pain to glorify yourself and to reveal that glory to us. Just please hurry, Father.

In addition to living with that ache, there were real times of joy and lightheartedness. 

When we drove into the compound, my stomach was hosting some really spazzy butterflies thinking of seeing people again, not sure what it would be like to reunite. 

The first person we saw, though, came running over and after a bear hug, there were tears of joy in her eyes. Running down to the big yard was a taste of what it WILL be like when all things are right and there is a MASSIVE reunion in heaven. The sun was shining down and there were squeals and suddenly faces I missed so much right there, hugs, smiles, laughter, earrings accidentally getting ripped out, precious little hands trying to put them back in. Little mouths remembering my name and the wonderful feeling of opening my own mouth and finding a language I love come spilling out with greetings…no inhibition, remembering names, seeing with new eyes how precious and how wonderfully they are made. Seeing people from the corner of my eye and waving and then getting caught up with others and then finally getting to run and greet that other person properly. Long running hugs, seeing dear volunteer friends again. I hope that time never fades in my mind because it showed me so much about what we look forward to. 

A little girl hanging on to my back trying not to drop the cookie she was eating because she was laughing too uproariously hard…then going on a walk with her mommy who choked on her coke because my friend and I made her laugh so hard. 

Cooking American food and walking through the dark with friends to eat it with one of the staff. Playing dinosaurs and zombies with her little boy, laughing, being able to converse in Spanish. SO thankful for education and the amazing feeling of seeing it go out and be put to use. 

Then there was the simplicity of life and character building I miss so much in the cushy American life. First night there, dinner was microwave ramen noodles with not enough seasoning plus cold spaghetti Os (avoiding the meatballs, of course, because they were so shady). Then sitting on the floor with the power gone (it wouldn’t be the same with power!) with a little lantern in the middle of us, Ashley squashing termite after termite with her flip flop as we laughed over so many memories. The only pillow I could find that night was crumpled in a corner of the dusty washroom and my bed frame was being actively consumed by termites (you could hear them munching! The sounded like rice krispies!) Cold showers in the dark to beat the heat. I really missed all of that. 

Homemade Honduran fare! Que rico...seriously, so good, hit me up if you ever want to try some!

Staying up way too late catching up with other volunteer friends. Dying of laughter and then shushing each other through stomach cramps. Times in the hammock. About a thousand new inside jokes. 

Epic pranks involving scratching on windows, impersonating Honduran men and buckets of ice water coming up over the shower stalls to screaming victims within. 

Quality conversations with others who share similar frustrations and questions. A lot of new insights gained, new food for thought. And the comfort of sharing with understanding ears. Even if there are no easy answers, this kind of fellowship means a lot. 

Friends who have been through so much worse than I can even imagine reminding ME to persevere, pray for patience and love until it hurts. Over and over again. An 18 year old mom writing to ask me to pray because it’s hard to be mother to a little girl while trying to graduate high school and live with other burned-out moms. Telling me that she wishes she could just be a normal teenage girl but that she trusts with all her heart that God has a plan for her life and has her where He wants her. She calls me Una Hermana Americana. 

Seeing God work in my own heart so that in places where I’m tempted to hold grudges or give the same silent treatment or sassiness, He instead filled it with His own softness and good will. That is not something I could ever do on my own! 

Jumping like crazy people on the trampoline with boys who remembered me as Tía Clara. 

Sweet hammock times

THIS GIRL! Love me some Krista Byers ;) 

Never did get a great picture with these two...this was about the best little Andrea could do!

Quality time with this special guy was so good! He is growing up fast! 

Seeing the kids who I was closest to ignore me but then slowly warm up. Moments like when we played hide n seek and little Yefry and I were curled up behind a curtain and he just stared up at me with twinkly eyes and his little hands around my neck. 

Sitting beside sobbing Giselle. Not trying to fix her or figure out what was wrong. Just realizing we all need to cry it out sometimes. Getting to be the lap she curled up in and never left when every last tear was cried out. 

Playing a game of duck duck goose that ended up (after half a round) with 6 hollering boys on top of me. 

The best sharing and taking turns I’ve ever witnessed with the swings at the park!

Sitting in the path of an EPIC incoming storm. Glorious downpours of rain. 

Climb every mountain...and make sure the baby girls make it too!

Times like these mix right in with the confusion and pain. Isn’t that life? Here we are, waiting for our King to come. Our world really needs Him back. But we also really see Him here and now and can pray knowing He’ll let us see redemption in our life times. So in this way, we’ll keep on running. Take heart in the trouble. He has overcome. 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Honduras Visit!!

Dear Friends, 

I recently re-read blog posts from Honduras for the first time since writing them. It was fun (and overwhelming) to re-live the ups and downs. What was really humbling was seeing and remembering how much love and support came from the home front. I thank you so much for all you did!! 

I’m 10 days and 1 wedding away from going back to Orphanage Emmanuel for a 10-day visit and want to give an update before jumping into the craziness! 

I’m pretty humbled entering this trip. Starting at the orphanage last year, I would say I had (or thought I had) a pretty clear picture of  what I wanted to get out of the experience. After many difficulties (physical, cultural, relational, spiritual), I came out of the 5 months needing to process it all. I really, really, REALLY wanted my time there to be positive, growing, amazing, wonderful, joyful, life-changing, etc. And it was in its way. But it’s hard for me not to write the narratives I want to hear/share instead of being honest and seeing the truth in situations. 

As time progressed and I had more space, some hard things came up: questions about the effectiveness of serving in an orphanage, about if I resonate with the culture. Really unwanted questions about whether or not I’m as called in the way I’ve always thought I’ve been to work with kids. More flashbacks to hard conversations. It has been a big can of worms and some tearful phone calls back home as everything started coming up. I feel that God has been inviting me to being to engage these hard, honest questions and conversations. 

I do not have the answers I wish I had; I wish I could tell you exact reasons I'm going back, or point to a SPECIFIC time when it was clear God was asking me to go. But it's not that. Everyday seems like a matter of choosing to trust that God doesn’t ask me to have it figured out, but wants me to trust when things aren’t clear. If I’m only willing to step into things when the complexities are ironed out, then I won’t be doing much stepping. So somehow, it's GOOD to engage tough questions head-on but ALSO GOOD to obey BEFORE they're all answered. 

My prayer is for Jesus to guide. In what? I couldn't tell you exactly! I’m not sure!! I trust that even though I’m going unsure, He will be a sure leader, as He always has been. I’m praying that this trip will reveal His love at a life-changing level to my heart and the hearts of the precious teens, young moms and babies I will get to see again. Please join me in praying for His love to penetrate our hearts. 

I hit a low-point of not knowing whether I had made the right decision to go back to the orphanage, and in that time, a package arrived in the mail from that further humbled me. A few of my friends at the orphanage found a way to get it to a volunteer who then mailed it to me. I was surprised because it’s hard to figure out a way to mail things down there. 

A letter from Rosa said (translated): “how have you been? First of all, I hope this letter makes it to your hands.” I was floored by that opening line. She wrote a long letter not even sure if I would ever see it! She wanted to say that she loved me and prayed for God’s blessing. What kind of love is this?! It reminded me that this is NOT about me at ALL! So many of those girls (and kids for that matter) loved so well, and forgave short-comings and gave grace for mistakes. Here I am overthinking EVERYTHING and they just hope we might get to see each other again someday as sisters in Christ. 

So as I enter humbled, please join me in praying specifically for…

Rosa: 19-year-old mom of 3-year-old Andrea. I got close to Rosa during my time and she has written letters since then. Pray for a real connection between me and her. Pray that it would be more encouraging than painful to have such a short visit. 

Time with the niños: pray for fun interactions and that neither I nor them would get over-attached. Pray especially for little Yefry who last time stuck to me like glue and made it difficult to part. Pray for life-giving joy. 

Time with other volunteers: I have a good number of close friends whose time will overlap. Pray for times of blessing and encouragement amidst the craziness of volunteering. 

Pray for the right WORDS to tell big/little friends that this might be my last visit. 

Above all, pray that God’s name is honored and that we better live as His children, together!! 

I'm looking forward to seeing you on the other side and sharing how our God has answered these prayers. 

With Love, 

Could NOT resist this picture of Noe's eye-crossing demonstration and Yefry creepin in the background. Really can't wait to give them huge hugs again!! 

The one and only Rosa. She amazes me and is another person I just can't wait to HUG!!

Yefry with underpants on his head.  My friend who is currently at the orphanage recently told me he found a ladybug and played with it for a little while before deciding to put it on his tongue and see how long he could keep it there.  With this child, you never know.

Big girls house! Always an insane time, you never come out completely unscathed but somehow they still endear themselves to you! 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Bound for Life

I love to travel. Flying thousands of feet above the ground called home and then setting foot on new shores never fails to bring a heightened sense of "chasing the Lion heart of God" (Rend Collective). But when I travel, I am reminded that we are not safe. When I travel, I remember that we live in a really huge world that's "still trembling in the wake of the fall" (Tenth Avenue North). Evil is relentless and we do not have to go far to see it (considering that it's all around us and in our own hearts). The more I am steeped in history, the more I fear for the future; humans have incredible potential for destruction. We are vulnerable many countless factors could go wrong? How many threats make cloistered security look so appealing? Faced with these things, how tempting is it to say, "draw out, let up, retreat! Someone could pull out a weapon and take our lives; a wretched illness could do the same, any time. This plane could crash, this car could crash, disaster and tragedy could fall at any moment, to anyone we know." Do we live with this reality? I would be more quick to say for myself that I live in the sunshine, striving for wholeness and joy. But when I think about it, we must be prepared for the darkness too. We aren't safe here. We do not control the next breath we take. 

And yet as followers of Christ, we could not be safer. How is that? 

What gives living hope is that there is someone who does control the breath we take. Francis Chan has encouraged me to do take a breath. And another. And another. Each time you breathe in and out, realize that was given to you. One more breath was given to you. The very next one could be your last. Does this sound terribly morbid? I know it probably does. What I'm getting at is this: as believers in a risen Jesus, while living in a dangerous world, we take hold of the promise of life indestructible. 

So when I stand in a security line at the airport and ambulance sirens screech past; and when I wait to board a piece of flying crash-potential; and when the turbulence gets real thousands of miles from earth...that's when fear threatens. That's when my mind takes time to wander to everything else that could go deeply wrong, and everything else in our history that has gone disturbingly wrong. And the same fear threatens. 

While I sat in that for awhile, I heard the words of this song: 

"they waited for me to fall
but when I fell the water got still
and the blood that was spilled protects me it was the same blood that cleansed me
my only defense against my nemesis now I can rest
knowing that nothing can come against me unless the father gives consent
evil intentions will not disturb God’s purposes or interfere
so who shall I fear if my anchor is secure

learning to consider it pure joy
when I’m facing tribulations praising God instead of complaining and getting overtaken with bitterness
looking at the pages of the book of James and seeing the ways God works through the trials to make us more mature in our faith 
it reminds me how desperate I am in this desert land
thirsty for your mercy and plan while you give me the strength to stand
you’re my greatest pleasure, no matter the weather I face, 

Lord you never forsake my fragile life is safe under your sovereign grace

Our lives are so fragile; yet...yet, no matter how thin these threads of holding on get, in Christ, they cannot break. They are more secure as an anchor holding hard and fast to the bottom of the sea. How does this paradox work? How can they be so fully fragile and yet so indestructible? 

"If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?...who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord Romans 8:13-39

There is no anchor that holds stronger than that. No place or conditions on earth safe enough to out-do its groundedness. 

It does not mitigate fear; as humans in a terrifying world, the fears still haunt. 

But we step out into that world regardless because everything and nothing could destroy our fragile lives. 

That truth gives a constant calmness. 

We are opening out into life upon life. Whenever our earthly life finds its end, it will find itself walking into eternity, where it is indestructible. But it does not become indestructible already is. If you put your faith in Jesus, who beat death at its own game by being the Son of God who sacrificed Himself in our stead, then the indestructible quality of your life began the moment life began. So long as we are in Christ, His hands secure the journey bound for life. I don't know my stance on the specifics of our resurrection life...YET. I'm sure as a Bible/Theology major, we'll get to that soon enough. But I do know that He is the resurrection and the life, and whoever believes in Him shall not die. John 11:25

I am aware that these thoughts all came to me while sitting on a smooth flight; I am aware that I was brought through safety, that all the prayers for uneventful travels were answered with Yes. I am aware that this is speculation, that my fear comes largely from theoreticals, from prospects, from maybes. But I am also aware that the God I follow is one who suffered and who continues to use suffering for greater glory. I pray that what he teaches us in smoothness will be a constant calmness in the turbulence. 

"when faced with adversity your truth constantly reminds me 
that you command the seas with ease and with words you tell the wind to breathe 
helps me understand that we stand on solid rock not on sinking sand 
through the providence or pain you perfect your plan."

"you bow my heart and my conscious and gave me a constant calmness
so when the pain comes like rain from the parts of life that maintain its strain 
I can put my trust in the hands that sustain
It’s profound with all these sinking ships around me 

He surrounds me and He anchors me with his grace abounding."

I hope together we can live as if our Savior's perfect love really does cast out fear. 

Here's a rough drawing/diagram reproduced from a journal entry of mine. 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Our Gardener

Words and I have a funny relationship. On the one hand, they flow through me and give me life. The desire to write and the joy of it is in my veins...and I think God put it there! But words do fail on me too. For all the times they explode in joy, they also make for a blank white sheet and a lot of backspacing.

But today I am filled with gozo [joy], and want to share that. In fact, I feel prompted to share it. In fact, I feel prompted to start building thoughts on this blog again. I hope it is indeed a prompting from the Holy Spirit. It is certainly not without some trepidation. I have had this nudge before and took to the keyboard a few times. But mostly, it's been left behind. Now I'm putting myself out there again. Hoping it was the Spirit urging me on. My pridefulness says, "I don't want to be yet another one of those little personal reflections Christian blogs that pops up on the newsfeed so often. Writing all about myself? Oh please, that sounds blatantly self-centered!"

But that's my own voice in the matter. In a time of listening this afternoon, I heard His voice (I'm learning to my excitement this is something that HAPPENS when we sit still and listen for it!): "I gave you a voice in written words, but it's stuck in your journal, unshared. Would you share your voice to bless?"

Here's the back story. Early this week, I grew impatient and frustrated with the fluency I'm losing in Spanish. I'm growing in a thousand and one grammatical concepts, but I can hear my accent going sour for lack of use, and my comfort level slow. If you've ever attempted learning another language, you probably know the feeling. At work one day (I have the amazing privilege of working as a TA for one of my Spanish professors) I had enough of stumbling over words and second guessing words and not being able to fully express myself. Frustrated, impatient and desperately wanting fluency, I was in a place where I knew how to talk myself out of it. I knew I was being hard on myself. I heard the words others would have said to me. I knew it was ridiculous to say "I CANNOT SPEAK SPANISH" But I was challenged to live in the frustration for a while. Because I just needed to say, "I CANNOT SPEAK SPANISH!" Being a follower of Jesus gives freedom not to dig ourselves out of holes. It gives us freedom to fully, bravely engage the humanness that we are, so that our eyes are more fully opened to who He is. There is no other way around it! 1 John 1...we have to grow into our humanness if we're ever to move from arrogance into childlike awe. And so I quieted my quick fix thoughts for a little while, changed into my running shoes and sweat it out on the treadmill. I wasn't angry, and God wasn't absent in that time. It was actually a sweet time. All that to say, that turn of events got me thinking about gifts. As a Christian, gifts are a wonderful thing because of the liberty to boast. Ironically, because of our inability to boast, we have full rights to do it...none of it is ours! The Giver of life is the Giver of every good gift, so what we see in each other is His good work, that can lead to praise. Boast away in a God good enough to be that kind of artist. But what are my gifts?

In asking this question, I had to do some unlearning. I had to do some confessing of gifts I've left untended and uncultivated. In the pursuit of God, it is possible to focus too much on the fact that He's everything. What I mean by that is He IS everything, over all, in all, through all... so when I say, "I am going to sacrifice this thing I love and am good at because I need to put him first," what I just did was separate that thing from His Lordship. The train of thought runs something like this: sports? I don't have time for sports, I am pursuing God. No, I can't join other extracurriculars even if I am interested, because, well, I need to sacrifice those things for God. Within this thinking, I know there are a million nuances (as a thinker, I really DO know them), but instead of unpacking them all now, I want to describe the connection that the Holy Spirit helped me make. That many times in my life, I have left uncultivated good talents that He has given me in pursuit of pursuing perfected religion. Problems kick in here for me in the form of judgment. "That's cool for them, but not something I would pour out time and commitment in. Because I want to do God's work." But we cannot separate WHAT we do from WHO we are becoming. See, I think so often, we say, "I'm nothing special; just letting God work on my character." GOOD! Keep letting him do that, but man, let him do it with your whole life. Because you ARE something special, it is the way you are made, and that is not so that the whole world realizes it, it is not for gaining anything but the joy of giving it right back to the One who finds delight in it. Small example of this? When I was working on fixing up this blog, I rushed myself saying, "colors don't actually matter, appearance doesn't actually matter, there are so many good words you could be writing now!" But I love tweaking colors. I am an artist. So I let myself play. If you are going to make a blog, do it well!

Do you want to know what I consider a beautiful example this? Evan Craft. I love his music in English and Spanish, his talent as a musician and his evident love of Spanish. This is a side note, but as I've been rethinking "mission" since coming here (so many questions!) I see in Evan Craft's work a balance. His incredible music is a gift to the Spanish-speaking world. It's not charity. it's not handouts. It's not superiority. It breathes life, it gives dignity, it uplifts. From all I can tell, he maintains friendships around the world, and his work is based in relationship. As I've listened to his music more, I've been a good musician, be a good economist, be a good engineer, be a good mailman, be a good athlete, because all you have is given to you, and given to you for the singular, astonishing purpose of giving praise to the Father. Together. And so I wrote this in prayer today:

Scandalous, but please give me a passion for something else. Not in exchange for you, but in addition to this love I have for you. Because I love you too much to simplify life without addressing how whatever gifts you’ve given me can actually, realistically meet the world with joy and gift-giving. You...AND the things you’ve given me. You in all, including my personality, my gifts and my time. What do you want me to be? I know that WHO you want me to be is the most important question, and THAT IS EXACTLY WHY I am asking this question now…WHAT do you want me to be, because that TOO shapes who I am in you. There’s no compartmentalizing. There’s no separating. 

I felt repentant at beholding my own under cultivated garden. How much have I missed? I want to share with you this prayer of surrender, which I will need for years to come: 

To the creator of who I gave me life and you built me in such a way as to build up your church in a unique way. I don’t know if I am an ear or a foot or a hand. Yet I confess that I have left uncultivated the talents you have given me in many-times prideful pursuit of the perfect religion. I am sorry that I have judged others as they follow their passions and their loves, out of a false belief that they were missing the one and only important thing in life. You are the most important. But you care about who we are and how we cultivate and use who we are. I am incapable of digging myself out. I don’t know where to start with this mess of a garden, and I don’t have the tools I need. Thank goodness. I would mess it up anyway. You are my gardener. And despite the ways I live like I’m not yours, your unmerited favor and love are steadfast. They have’t exhausted themselves. Today I have nothing to offer but an expressed desire for you to be my gardener. For you to take the thriving weeds and begin fresh a very long work that will lead to a garden. I pray that this garden would flourish under your skillful hand. That it would produce fruit because of you tending it, and that the fruit would be used for healing. I pray that many would come to it and take freely of the gifts you provide. I pray that the garden would be exhausted and used and sacrificed to death. And that the death would lead to newer, stronger life. I can trust you in the vulnerability of a bare ground. I invite you to be the keeper of my heart. And not just my heart, but my mind, my future, my desires. My vocation, my calling, my body. It all belongs to you. And I want it to! Teach me to constantly hand the tools over to you. Soften this ground so it’s willing to be shaped by your hand. And let your hand be active! 

About global poverty...we've learned that there is deep poverty within ALL all all of us. Amen to that, and how freeing. 

Enjoy this stellar photograph of the flowers some lanky red-head freckle face used to propose to a gorgeous girl who happens to be my sister...:) 

Then I kept silenco and listened, and lo and behold...I am an escritora [writer] Oh yeah. I think I knew that? Why don't I use it? Well I do, I write all the time. I just never share it. Why not? Because who wants to hear my thoughts? Well, I think a lot of people would. Clara, I'm filling your life with good things and hard things and I am teaching you a whole lot of things. I am building you up so that you can build others up. But isn't that a selfish outlet for my gifts? Have you ever gone into something with completely clear motives in your entire life? But what if I say something I didn't mean to? Or what if you did it following behind me prayerfully and acknowledged mistakes ahead of time? 

That's essentially how the conversation went. And now all there is left to say is that I dearly hope you have found some encouragement from these words. If there's one thing this blog does, I hope it serves you in your own pilgrimage of following Christ...or of exploring the idea of following Him. I'm just another pilgrim. The One I follow blows my mind, and if through my words You glimpse Him, then Praise the work that is His. 

Thank you, friends! And hey...whatever you a good one. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

If I Have Not Love

His love relentlessly gets to the bottom of us. 

His grace really is incredible, grace that would teach me lessons I could never learn myself. It requires a whole lot of time, a whole lot of patience, and there’s so much room for floundering, but all along He knew what He was doing. 

These past days have been questions. After being here for almost a semester, I can say that I am FOR a Christian Liberal Arts Education and think it’s wonderful. I don’t think it’s a waste of money. I don’t think it’s a waste of time. I think it’s a blessing. 

But I cannot ignore this tug on my heart. I don’t think I asked for it; I WANT to be happy here. I WANT to love it, I WANT to eat it up. But that’s not a reality yet. I cannot ignore the question welling up inside of me…what if…what if this is not what I’m cut out for, God? There’s a tug on my heart and it WON’T STOP. There’s something else in store, and how can I possibly do this for another three years? 

Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to watch this Francis Chan sermon:

If you have time, watch it. If you don’t have time, you should probably still watch it. (if you’re ready to grapple with questions that will challenge the way you’re living). 

He talks about living lives worthy of the Gospel. The Gospel is full of miracles and supernatural healing. So many times I have heard the rationale that ordinary lives are important too. And I believe that. But I’ve also seen how many times “my ordinary life” squelches the audacity to relentlessly pray for Jesus’ supernatural power to break into our lives. If we’re living in line with the Gospel, shouldn’t the supernatural be more ordinary? 

He talks about the persecuted church in China, how each and every member of the underground church could recount time after time of persecution. But they didn’t tell it like it was strange or out of the ordinary; instead, they couldn’t believe Francis Chan couldn’t tell similar stories of the American church. Because Scripture says if you follow Jesus, you will experience persecution, and it says it so very plainly. They thought it was amusing that we choose a church based on music preferences and child and youth ministries. Are we living in line with the Gospel that promises persecution? Or is our “persecution” equivalent to “just not connecting with the worship”?

I am so, so, so, so ready to give away all I have to those who need it. I don’t want it! There’s a BURDEN on my heart that’s crying out, “take it all and give me Jesus!” I don’t want these riches. 

Why would anyone ASK for persecution? And yet I want to understand the Gospel. I’m DONE living this way, I can’t TAKE all the comfort any more, I can’t learn how to be content in plenty, because after glimpsing the possibility of lives thrown totally and completely on God, there’s no going back! Why do we enjoy this abundance for ourselves?

I want the faith that can move mountains. I want to pray for big, bold things and see them happen in the name of Jesus.

All these thoughts and desires became enslaving to me; when I looked at my life, I wondered why my life has not known Scripture far more literally. I am so ready to do crazy things, God, so please take me to that place! 

Honestly, I told God I wanted to stop going to Wheaton after this year. I wanted out. I was open to something different if that’s what He had for me; and I still am open. 

But this is the grace I was talking about. 

God let me get to that place. Yup, all the way there. 

And there, I heard these words: 

“But to deviate from the truth for the sake of some prospect of hope of our own can NEVER be wise, however slight that deviation may be. It is not our judgement of the situation which can show us what is wise, but only the truth of the word of God. Here alone lies the promise of God’s faithfulness and help. It will always be true that the wise course for the disciple is always to abide solely by the word of God in all simplicity.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer). 

My own prospects of hope. And the truth of the word of God. Are they one and the same? 

“Sell all you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven”! God, that’s what your word says, right? And at Wheaton, we have SO MUCH and we barely even think about it! 

“If I give away all I have but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3) 

But God, I’ve never known persecution, so am I really following you, is my life really in line with your word? 

“If I deliver up my body to be burned but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor 13:3) 

But Jesus, I don’t see the supernatural happening in these wearisomely ordinary days, and that doesn’t seem to match up with your entire ministry on earth and the way you sent us out to do the same! 

If I have all faith so as to remove mountains but have not love, I am nothing
1 Corinthians 13:2 

As long as I’m striving to whip my life in line with the Gospel, there won’t be fruit. Fruit comes from pressing into love of the Heavenly Father—His impossibly great love for us. We are free to fall in love, and from that loving relationship come generous giving, crosses to bear, and everyday miracles. 

The verses do not mean we no longer have to question whether or not we’re living in line with the Gospel; those are very serious questions that none of us should think we can escape. But if life isn’t flowing from love with Jesus, forget it. Our striving is useless and can mean nothing if it’s not done in love. 

So this is becoming for me a lesson in loving. If I got rid of everything (or most everything) I own right now, what would it lead to? Bitter criticism toward everyone and their stuff and an inability to live among it without being judgmental. What if I decided to leave Wheaton for something else? Forever in the back of my mind there would crouch a belief that I’m ahead of everyone else; and that’s absurd. What if I had faith to pray bold things and to see them happen? Without love…all those prayers, no matter their appearance, would actually be for my own benefit. 

My agitated heart raises a resistance…only to be met again and again with the quieting question, “are you knowing a loving God more and loving others more?” 

This holiday season, I hope and pray that out of love, we all challenge each other to give…until it hurts with the joy of seeing the Gospel go forth. 

Luke 14:12-14
He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.

Thanksgiving…it’s a FEAST! And it can be so much more than food…it can be a feast of loving relationships and gratefulness. Are you sharing your feasts this year? Are you sharing with people who will never be able to repay you? Not out of guilt or a forced obedience…but out of a love to see the Kingdom not only GO OUT, but COME to our own homes. It is more blessed to give than to receive. Can we take this Scripture literally this holiday season?

Who can you give to in love this Christmas? 

“Your theology becomes reality when you follow in obedience.” (from Pastor Mitch Kim at Living Water Church, which I have been attending) 

I hope I’m writing this blog post in love. 

Hebrews 10:24
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love AND good deeds. 

LOVE…and good deeds. Both those things. In harmony. Love resulting in good deeds and good deeds resulting in deeper love. Press on! 

Some random pictures: 

I started volunteering at Windsor Park nursing home every Monday night. We carve pumpkins, sing hymns and play charades

Feeling adventurous

Jellyfish having an off-day (I think this was near the end of the shift and the jellyfish was longing to be a human again)

Birthday dinner for ANNI! 

As a side-note, instead of Christmas gifts this year, I would ask for support as I hope to spend time in Honduras this summer; prayer letter will hopefully come at some point!