Pretty Good Year

It’s the day before Christmas Eve, and I’m sitting in my cluttered living room while rain lashes the bushes outside against the glossy, wet windows. Fireplace aglow, presents in a glittery heap, a half knitted sock (that I’ve been working on for a few years, which loses its needles every time I put it away), the book I just finished lies exhaling next to me on the couch.

I’ve started so many posts in the last few months, some of them getting no farther than an intriguing title. There’s plenty to say (always), but how much of it needs to be said here? As 2015 comes to a close, it feels right to make some account for myself, so here is a list of the main events:

January: came to Lynden to work with Rise Campaign.
This was the best start to a new year, though I didn’t know it at the time. Staying connected to YWAM in this low-pressure way, working with kind and passionate people who champion me despite my sometimes excessive lack of productivity… this is the reason I’ve been able to leave survival mode and start tackling the world again…

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Purposely Provocative

Generally, my desire is to encourage, bolster or soothe people. This is not because I just want people to like me, but because my own troubles stem from an internal chaos of which I long to be free.

Being provoked to passionate feeling is not the opposite of what I’m looking for. In fact, if the provocation is well done and hits in a place I really care about, it will lead me to a greater sense of focus. It banishes chaos equally as well as comfort, although since my ability to change the world seems quite limited, the action that wants to flow out of the focused passion is often frustrated at the door of reality.

These thoughts started with some movies I’ve seen recently which purposely inspired strong feelings about what is wrong with the world. There are many people who prefer soothing because they dislike feeling helpless more than they can’t stand that others really are powerless to truly horrible situations. Slavery, war, violence, addiction. Most of us feel (when we are faced with the real facts on these issues) that there is really nothing we can do to help…

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The Big Idea

Studying to teach is a beautiful and frustrating process for me. If I spend too much time on details, I am immediately lost. What happens instead, is I spend a few weeks just thinking about the book I’m supposed to teach. Clearly, I have read through it and I will often gather bits of big picture information to chew on.

I ponder.

At some point, in the  pondering (and attempting to study), I Get It. This usually happens much closer to the time I’m to teach than is really comfortable, but that also somehow suites me. I take the stress and I plunge head first into papers and my teaching outline. What I want to give my students is the Big Idea- the perspective they will not have time to discover for themselves in the two days they will get to study the book I’ve been studying for 4 weeks. But it takes me most of that four weeks to see the big idea clearly enough to teach it to them.

Something else happens while I’m studying to teach a particular book- God allows me to somehow experience or feel this Big Idea in a personal way in my own life. You can imagine because of this factor I was a bit nervous before I started studying to teach the book of Job!

Now I am currently working on the prophetic book of Hosea

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Being Here

What I’ve really be thinking about this week is God’s love. I’m stuck on this topic because not only is it taking this long for me to grasp it, but I’m starting to think it may be the only truly necessary topic.

Yesterday at the end of a lecture on the book of Ecclesiastes, Angela wanted us to spend time sharing what we had learned about God’s character this year. She connected this thought to the question that, since life is meaningless without God (vanity, vanity!) how does knowing him give life meaning?

What I’ve been learning about God in the last few years has to do, first of all, with the message of the Bible as a whole. Big picture- God’s desire is to dwell with man. Time and again, we make a mess of things and time and again He steps in to set things right. But this “dwelling” isn’t just about cohabitation- it’s not just about the Most Holy Place or about Jesus coming to earth, or even, ultimately about our final hope of living in His heavenly mansion. The Being Together that God wants is a kind of active presence that I’m just barely able to wrap my mind around.

You know how some people are always someplace else, even when they are with you? Their eyes are looking, not at you as you talk with them, but far away and they merely nod their head in rhythm with the tune of your words. Then there are others who are so present that you actually feel heard. Their eyes pierce into you and they respond to what you’re saying with insightful questions, laughter, tears. They are with you and completely present…

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Narrativity

The small note on the main page of this blog says,
“Here’s my story. It’s God’s story.”
It’s something I have known, but learned recently in a much deeper way.

For the past few months I have been evaluating and praying about what will come next in my story. We had a staff conference for the last few days and a man named Brad Stanley spoke about several things that really illuminated some dark places in my head. One thing that he said was that when you’re looking for where to go next, it’s important to understand where you’ve been- to see the context and continuity of the direction of your life. I had already been doing that (in a drastically divergent manner) but something else he said caused me to realize how I was doing this poorly.

Instead of this being about the story of my life that God is writing, it’s actually about his story that he is writing with my life. It may sound like semantics, but it completely changes the perspective I have as I take stock of the details. The continuity I’m looking for, which points me forward, isn’t located within the narrative of my specific story, but is found where my story connects to a much larger one…

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When You’re Gone

My strongest urge right now is to clam up. This rarely leads to anything good, and so I’m writing.

Today is my daughter Sarah’s sixth birthday. How does one celebrate (commemorate?) the birthday of a dead person? When people have children, they usually spend a decent amount of time planning birthday parties. What you do, you do for the kid. I assume you do what you think your kid will enjoy most. Birthday cake with trucks, cake shaped like a doll, colorful streamers, games, friends. If they are really young, you invite whoever will come and everyone sits and watches this dexterously inept human smear frosting from ear to ear, and from nose to toes.

But does a person who has stopped living continue to age? And what do you do on their birthday every year?

I have been asking those questions on this day for the last six years…

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Theology Soup

I started going to church when I was a baby. Which sounds funny because clearly I didn’t think to myself at a few months old, “huh, I wanna check out these Jesus followers.” My mom became a Christian just before I was born and started going to a Southern Baptist church. Before you get a picture in your head of holy rollers, this church was planted in Northwest Washington where even self-titled Charismatics are probably not going to get too demonstrative. (This is a stereotype which several of my friends from home break, I’ll grant you.)

We didn’t holy roll. When it was time to worship, we just followed orders. Hymns, praise choruses, stand, stand, sit. No one said, “Amen,” no one raised their hands.

When I became a Christian for real at age 16, I wanted to be at church every moment. Still Southern Baptist. I devoured my Bible and tattooed it with question marks which I would frequently harass my pastor with through email. I did all the 12 week Bible studies you can think of, Experiencing God, The Mind of Christ, A Heart Like His.

Then, because I felt this call to be a missionary, I found myself at Moody Bible Institute. I was like a toddler on the loose, making friends, staying up late, listening to guys debate theology and kind of in awe of their adult sounding opinions…

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A Bigger Why

Even though I’m a missionary and I work at a place with a strong focus on the “least reached” (those places where the largest amount of people have not even heard of Jesus), I’m not particularly motivated by the statistics. I’m not especially drawn to “uncharted” pockets of the planet.

To be honest, any and all ignorance about God motivates me, and I’m just as drawn  to people who have wrong beliefs about Jesus as I am to those who have never heard of him.

To some this may be shocking and un-missionary-like of me. I’m not ashamed, although I have been tempted to be, that I don’t feel more drawn to the 10/40 window than I do to other parts of the world. This is not because I don’t care about the great need in those places. What I care even more deeply about, though, is God himself, his reputation, his glory….

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Holler

If I could create a drawing that described this year, it would probably be a comic strip. The whole thing would be a roller coaster ride.

After sitting here thinking for a while, I realize that describing the pictures I would draw is probably less effective than just describing the year itself.

January: This was a month of great elation. I had just completed the School of Biblical Studies, which is a marathon of studying for 9 months. I had puffy, bluish skin under my eyes and a great big smile on my face.

February: I went home for 6 weeks to “raise support.” I put it in quotes because that is not as concrete an activity as some might make it out to be. Basically I hung out with my friends, made new friends, and spoke to a few groups of people about the work I feel called to do as a Missionary….

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What Matters Most

The speaker for our class last week started out her time by asking the class for introductions. She asked where they were from, what they were passionate about and one thing they’ve learned so far during the school.

This question, “What are you passionate about?” is a good one and although I have looked at various branches of my passion and tried to articulate these things well, I had not come to the direct point until the other day. I think what helped me with this was that the speaker said, “You’re not allowed to say, ‘Jesus.’ We’re all here because we’re passionate about Jesus.” She was right, of course.  I never felt like this answer was a cop-out because it is true of me, but being forced to find a more specific way to express myself  was enlightening….

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