Prince of Peace: Outreach

 

Your love surrounds me when my thoughts wage war

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When night screams terror, there your voice will roar

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Congolese flee the eastern town of Sake, just west of Goma, on Friday. Fighting between rebel and government forces in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo has displaced at least 100,000 people.                   

                      Come death or shadow, God I know your light will meet me there

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And my soul will know…
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    This beautiful nation that God is already speaking to me about. This beautiful nation that needs God’s words of life to roar into the midst of war and into the midst of fear. In mid-January, I’ll be headed to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to bring these words. When we learn of who God truly is, we just can’t keep it in, can we?

I’m looking at about $2500. The first installment will be visa fees in the beginning of November. I’m overjoyed to get to witness how He provides over and over again, and know he will this time, but I would love for you to be apart of it. I’d love for you to go with me. Over the next day or two, I will put out a video update, and something with a few more details. Thanks for reading and please comment or email with any questions.

The Head and The Heart.

We like division. I like division. I like when I can categorize and compartmentalize, sort and label. I’ve taken every personality test you can find (I’ll also include those BuzzFeed quizzes that guess who you’re going to marry based off of your favorite pizza topping) in the name of understanding myself in terms of letters, numbers, or other entirely arbitrary categories. Clinging to my “I’m an introvert/feeler/fill-in-the-blank, I can’t help it!” status, has been a primary reason for me clinging to some of my oldest habits, like an old man eating the same sandwich everyday, because “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

And if it is broken, internal old man? If it no longer fills you up, sir?

This is something that I’ve been stewing on, turning it over in my head for the last few weeks. How much do I do out of old habit, how much do I do on autopilot because I’m convinced that the alternative is much worse, at it’s worst; and at it’s best, not as good as the current thing I have going?

When I was in school, I was good. I did good. I enjoyed school, I enjoyed learning, I enjoyed achievement. In fact, that’s mostly what school consisted of. Am I the best? Does everyone know I’m the best? A constant jockeying for positions, and an even more constant insecurity, because it costs you to maintain that position. For me, the cost was steep. I gave learning up for the temporary enjoyment of an “A”. This was who I labeled myself as, so eventually when the tower fell, when the grocery store stopped carrying that specific brand of mustard (if we’re gonna go with the “old man and his sandwich” metaphor), I was devastated.

When you sacrifice what you love for a feeling of security (love very rarely aligns itself with security), it splits you. There’s the part of you that feels glee and joy, the part that does things sheerly for the love of it, and there’s the other part. It’s the old man demanding that the status quo be maintained, that he have the same sandwich that he’s had for years now, not because it brings any satisfaction, but because he forgot that there were other foods to eat. Because he’s scared that that sandwich might now be the only thing that makes him happy, the only food that fills him up.

I’ve realized how much of my life I’ve lived this way. Especially as I’ve begun to delve into the Bible, specifically the legal documents, what seemed like endless laws, specific (gruesomely so, in a few spots). And I realized how much one word had left a bad taste in my mouth: obedience. And the doing wasn’t the part I took issue with. My life right now is the result of being obedient, of doing obedience.

But I realized pretty quickly that my very definition of obedience was coming up short to what it seemed like the Bible, like God was telling me.
“I want your heart in it, too,” it seemed as though everything I read was saying.
“But it doesn’t have to be, does it?”

I’m moving from fully believing that God didn’t particularly care if my heart was involved, to seeing that my heart’s engagement in relationship with him IS something he’s concerned. In my head, his concern was primarily with actions involved, the results it gave, the way it looked on the outside. I can’t fully describe the resentment this creates, when you can’t get your heart to comply with the persona you’ve developed. It was this dissociative dynamic in my personal life, this sacrifice of joy and love to the gods of lists on a resumé or transcript, at the altars of achievement and appearance.

I learned the exact opposite of what I expected to learn out of those once-blank pages of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. I learned that God is constantly in pursuit of my heart. If he wanted a morality machine, he could made someone with zero choice, if my heart-level obedience truly did not matter to him. Instead what you see is him going out of his way to give us a choice. You see, unless I can choose not to, I can’t choose to. Without an alternative, I’m a machine. So I can only conclude that my choices matter deeply to the heart of an almighty God. So why choose obedience?

Because love and joy and trust.

This is the current place where God is stitching me back together. He’s teaching me why obedience (not just big obediences, but little ones, too) matters, and that it isn’t just the action. This is where I’m at, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops, but this has made obedience so much harder, and so much easier, all at the same time. It’s come a lot with learning to see the character of God clearer than I think I ever have, which makes him more trustworthy than he has ever been to me. When I know that the motivation of everything God does, is the highest good for everyone involved, than I can easily trust that he has my best interest at heart when he does something. When he asks me to do something. Even if that something is really hard. Am I at the point of declaring every command I’m given is an absolute delight? Nope. Forgiveness and loving those who don’t love me back is still super hard. Still not super delightful. But I can see the importance of these, the kingdom call of these, and the weight that this releases me and everyone else involved from.

God doesn’t use obedience to wound us. I never have to worry about God sending me some place that I’m going to hate, because I can perpetually trust his intentions. I can seek his heart in every step of obedience. When the time comes, I can trust that God isn’t going to tell me to marry someone completely and entirely incompatible. If God sends me some place new (marriage, from what I hear, is definitely uncharted territory), and it’s really hard? By knowing his character, I can always, always, always trust his intentions. And I can step out in obedience with joy, because I know that God is always in the place where I just step out of something that no longer serves to satisfy, challenge or grow me, into what he has for me.

The more I learn about God, the more I come to realize that even the strictest of Levitical laws still had a piece of God’s heart in them, that even when it made zero sense, the highest good of those involved was the motivation of every command, even if we don’t get it. When I know the heart of God, his will is that much easier to step into.

The more I learn to love God, the less painful obedience becomes because it is brings me that much closer to who I was made to be, living loved and loving out of that, restoring this earth to what he created it to be. Obedience is undoing the destructive pattern of my own sin and selfish choices. And everyone benefits.

The split comes back together when I think about it in these terms, or at least it starts to. I want to trade my same old-same old for something that satisfies. Something not based out of fear, or resentment, but something based out of love, out of trust. I’m learning that obedience is restorative, it’s a response to the character of an entirely trustworthy father, it’s not restrictive, it’s not condemning, and it’s changing everything. Now everything becomes an opportunity to engage with God, everything becomes an opportunity to connect with him and see and show his heart. It’s so much fuller than my most satisfying moments of achievement, so much more worthwhile than anything I’ve pursued so far. It’s actually the most worthwhile pursuit, isn’t it?

Reckless.

“I do this to learn the way God’s heart beats for his children that aren’t yet home because his heart hasn’t changed towards us. Ever. Not in all of history. His heart is come close, come close, come close, come home.”

I haven’t slept much in the last few days. At least since sometime last week, I feel like I’ve been in this caffeine-induced haze that hasn’t left much room for rest. It’s the best kind of restless I could imagine, but restlessness is just a fast track to exhaustion. As I walked home tonight after a run for some stress-related groceries (chocolate and Diet Coke), my eyes started to well up. I miss home. I thought of saying goodbye to my mom, my brother at the airport, hugging my sisters and littlest brother, kissing their little cheeks as I tried to hold back tears. Goodbyes make me weepy. I miss them, I thought.

 

Saturday night, one of my friends here and I went out. Just to see a movie at a local church, maybe go into town after. The Bible Society here in Norway was celebrating its 200 year anniversary so they were reading the Bible out into the main shopping street here in Kristiansand. The movie ended around 10, so we headed downtown to go support the reading and maybe talk to some people. It was quiet, just one or two people standing around the mic. So my friend and I started to walk down the street. We make it about two blocks and all of the sudden, my friend turns around and starts to talk to this woman standing on the corner in front of one of the convenience stores on the corner . Her name was Marisa* and we found out she was from Nigeria, and had been in Norway for a little while. She thought it was too cold, and went to church every week when she was home, in France, we found out. My friend offered to grab her some food, or a coffee. Within a few minutes, a drunk guy wandered up and approached me and my friend. My friend and this man talked quickly in Norwegian and I watched Marisa wander back and forth in the street. My friend finishes talking to this guy, and we start to walk back in the direction of her car.

“Those are the prostitutes here. Did you know that?” she said.

I began to piece together in my head the conversation we had just had with this woman, the young guys that had walked by shouting something gross. There’s just a posture and a tone you come to recognize no matter the language. It made sense now.

“I was wondering, but I had no idea.”

We walked a little further up the block, then turned back around and approached another woman named Elena*, also from Nigeria. We talked to her about Africa, and told her we might be going to the Congo in January (more details there, coming soon). She told us we needed to go to “her country”, to Nigeria. Her and I talked in broken Spanish, she had lived in Spain for 15 or 20 years. Just a sentence or two. I mentioned how my friend had been talking about a trip to Spain, for the beach. She told us how warm it was, that we would love it. Norway was too cold. We asked if we could pray for her, and asked if there was anything specific:

“A long life—and happiness.”

She ducked us into a nearby side street and I prayed for joy, and peace, and a long life full of joy. My friend asked her again if she wanted something, she had told us “no” a couple of times, but my friend joyfully insisted.

“Well, if you wanted to come by later, I love chicken nuggets.”

We laughed with her there in the middle of this street, about Spain and Norway, and chicken nuggets.

We talked with one more girl, she looked younger than the rest to me. Her name was Mary* and she didn’t look more than my or my friends age. She had gorgeous, long braided hair pulled back in a wrap. As we chatted, we also found out she was from Nigeria and had only been here two weeks. She was less chatty than the other two women we had talked to. We asked her if she wanted anything and when she said no, we walked away. On our way back through, we met the brother of one of the women we had talked to. He only spoke in Norwegian, so him and Kristin chatted about the Congo, and malaria, and she invited him to the same prayer house we had invited the women to. Pretty soon they crowded around us insisting that he should go, he smoked too much, he needed to get himself clean, it wasn’t holy to smoke. We laughed and joked and told them we’d be right back.

My friend and I went to the McDonald’s down the street and next thing I know, she’s ordered 2 bags full of french fries, cheeseburgers, and some chicken nuggets for Elena. We brought them back to them and she opened the bag right up and laughed and began to eat. It was about midnight when we finally headed home. I didn’t sleep hardly at all that night.

Why do I talk about this in connection with missing my family? Because they’re the reason this matters too. I imagined these women as little girls, I wondered if the had a favorite toy, or a blanket they slept with, maybe a hedgie (like my littlest brother) or something that they snuggled with as they fell asleep. A mom, a dad, a big brother. Baby feet. They had teeny tiny little baby toes once. I wonder if they had a mom, or a big sister that marveled over them, at the tiny little toes and fingernails. It was one of those moments where the clarity of your very calling comes into focus. I do this for them.

I thought I was just here to study the bible. And I am. But the very breath of the bible is freedom, is a people called out from slavery, to bless and be blessed. To bring humanity back to the very God that made them to know, and be known, to love and be loved. To the loving father, standing on the porch, calling his children back to safety, back home. A God among the nations, calling us to meet him there, calling us to radical, risky love.
I do this to learn the way God’s heart beats for his children that aren’t yet home because his heart hasn’t changed towards us. Ever. Not in all of history. His heart is come close, come close, come close, come home.

I do this so my little brothers and sisters can live in a world that is one step closer to justice, one step back toward Eden. I do this so every little one like them can snuggle up with their “hedgies” and “blankies” and sleep sound, no fear. So every woman can know she is beloved, and equal, and valuable, and bound for amazing things. So we ask God and we devour what he says, because like it has and it will for all of eternity, it changes everything. It drives hearts to reckless love, reckless redemption, reckless rescue. It drives us to adopt, to foster, to heal the sick, to set the captives free, to go to the nations and proclaim the good news: there’s room for you. There is always room at the table for you, and there’s always enough.

It drives us to buy some chicken nuggets.

 

*names changed out of respect to privacy

Job and Wide Open Hands

So I’m reading this book over again, with new eyes, seeing if I can’t find some resolution here. I am fighting to see clearly, like the healed, new, alive, loved person I am. So I open my fresh, clean ivory bible pages, and ask God to teach me to read with new eyes and open hands.

I can see it from where I sit as I stare at the blank, new pages of this Bible. It’s identical, down to the Moleskine-esque black cover and the inch and a half wide margins because I’m a habitual doodler, with zero impulse control. These pages are tear-stained, the full rainbow-inked margins, smeared, and scribbled. I can’t go near this book without that image overlaying in my mind. I’ve heard over and over again that you bring your presuppositions, and your associations with you every time you read this beautiful book. I didn’t realize all the associations Job had for me.

When I imagine that book, that bible sitting in my littlest brother’s closet as I type, I am forced to meet the eyes of someone far angrier. I meet her steely, tired eyes. She’s so, so tired. God doesn’t make any sense anymore, and God, people always made this unfurling rage, this gap-toothed foundation look a little more glamorous. I remember being so bitter at books that made sense of how little my own faith made any sense anymore, books that put my own visceral pain into clean, sexy, poetic verse. I’m not sure if you could see how angry I was then, but I remember anger feeling very physical to me, always pulsing directly under my skin. I could feel it as deeply with a scowl as I could with a smile. God, I just don’t know you anymore. Feeling the tension of every fact turning quickly to five hundred questions for whom it appeared as though the answer didn’t exist. The bright, sunshine-y, zealous faith of my childhood, had nothing for my depressed, fearful, disillusioned adulthood.

When we read the book of Job, I didn’t want to leave anymore. Not church, anyways. Still hated most of the rest of my life, but now it was as though someone had breathed life into it again. It contrasted painfully with my own willful apathy towards not just church, but a bible that gave me more questions than it ever did answers. The pages of my bible filled with notes, vibrant coloring and lines connecting my thoughts. I couldn’t feel all those passages that told me to take joy, and every time I did, it just increased the deficit of the person I was, to the person I believed God wanted me to be.

Someone in this book speaks my language.

Job was the first time I looked at the Bible and saw my own grittiness shining, mirror-like, back at me. He was angry, and confused, and couldn’t give up on this God of his any more than I could, against what felt on the brink of irrationality. Job had friends who had answers, but none of them felt sufficient, none of them gave him an explanation that he could hold onto. I’m not comparing my own dumb mistakes to losing everything, but I came out of that season of mistake, with an identity I no longer recognized. Everything I had identified myself with- church, good grades, good behavior, high hopes, had shifted, had obliterated. I had a testimony that I had created myself, and now no longer wanted.

I wanted to believe God still wanted me, more than I wanted me. I wanted to believe staying, and sobriety, and loving through the pain, and working a job I hated, and feeling all this aimlessness was worth something. That it had a purpose. That God could make something out of me still. That’s all we ever want to believe when we fail. That it’s okay, we still matter. Job saved me, because Job mattered to God, even in his rage and pride and pain. I wasn’t beyond saving.

Fast forward a year and half, and I sit here skimming the first chapter, margins now blank in this new bible of mine. The other one was beloved, so much so that the cover fell off. The margins are empty of my pain, emptied of my arguments, my observations, and I am emptying my hands.

This confession is me emptying my hands.

All of the ideas I had, sure. But mostly of the way I held this book so close like it somehow gave me not just permission to feel my pain, but to not heal. Some days I wake up and I still feel like that angry, tired girl. And then I pray, and I tell God where my soul is at. And I’m allowed to be angry, but God postures himself perpetually in such a way that offers healing. He has never once denied me my pain, but he is constantly inviting me towards healing, towards moving one step closer to leaving that angry girl to rest in peace in the pages of my old bible. Sure, Job gave me permission to feel. But God himself gives me permission to heal.

So I’m reading this book over again, with new eyes, seeing if I can’t find some resolution here. I am fighting to see clearly, like the healed, new, alive, loved person I am. So I open my fresh, clean ivory bible pages, and ask God to teach me to read with new eyes and open hands.