Sunday, November 27, 2011

Treasure in the trash

Today my church invited a guest speaker to speak for the culmination of a sermon series entitled Dear Church - a series that attempted to look at today's church, and more specifically our church, with a transparent and critical eye. Needless to say, I am sure some of the sermons made some members of my church uncomfortable, and made most of us feel convicted for either our apathy or judgmental attitudes, or our unwillingness to truly welcome and love the marginalized and outcasts of our society.

As November is Prayer for the Persecuted Church month, our pastor decided to bring in a man who has been persecuted for his faith right here in Brantford. I don't think I have ever cried so much in one service. Today's speaker was a man who  had been a mormon for 43 years of his life... and not only that, but he was a mormon leader, on a number of mormon committees etc, and his whole family was mormon. He was brought up believing that the Bible couldn't be trusted, and had no desire for anything related to Christianity.
What he did want however, was to be a more zealous Mormon, and as such he began to dig through document upon document so that he could see for himself the truth of the Mormon faith and its claims. However, as he began to seek the truth, he began to see that there were many things that just weren't adding up. And as he continued to dig, he began to feel a weight on his heart and mind to pursue Christianity. It was a feeling that he couldn't shake, he felt like he was being hounded by God. And all during this time he was still a Mormon leader etc. But as these doubts continued to pile up, and as God continued to convict him of his need for Jesus and the christian faith, he decided to approach his faith leader. After three hours of this man telling his leader everything he had discovered, all of his doubts and convictions, he asked, "Is there any room in this church for a man like me that just wants to love Jesus without all of the extras?" and his faith leader said one word: "no." That was the beginning of his conversion to Christianity, but it was by no means an easy decision. It was a decision wrought in tears and suffering.

This man's church leaders wrote him a letter that officially constituted a "gag order." If he followed this order, he would not be excommunicated. He was forbidden to speak of Christianity at the church, in the community, but also to his family. For three months God continued to weigh on his heart and mind, and there were two things that he was convicted of:

1) His sin and inadequecy

2) and that  Jesus offers forgiveness

These, among other things, led to this man committing his heart to Jesus and converting to Christianity. However, he truly had to count the cost. His church, his friends, and his community forsake him. He lost all his positions in the church, and was labelled a heretic. But the worst part, is that his own family could not accept him - his wife, his children.He lost everything.

But he lost everything for the sake of Christ, knowing fully what would happen if he made the decision to follow Him. This man broke down in tears many times while he was speaking - but still, even though he had lost everything, he knew that he gained the only thing that truly mattered. He knew that when you know the treasure that you have, it is worth everything.

I can't help but analyze my own life, and my own faith. Do I treasure Christ as much as this man does? What would I be willing to give up for Christ? What would I endure? Is Christ really the reason that I live?

At the end of his testimony, most of us had tears streaming down our faces, and we all raised our hands and prayed for this man and his family and friends. That God will bring salvation and restoration to this courageous man's family. I ask that you also pray for this man and his family, but also pray for all the persecuted Christians that endure so much for their faith. And maybe, look at your own life and ask yourself: Do I truly treasure Jesus? Or is my ' Treasure in the trash'?

Friday, November 25, 2011

is always uncomfortable
I resist and avoid it
until it breaks me
like a cracked clay vessel
flowers springing from every crevice
broken, but beautiful


 Well, the first term of university is ending, and christmas break is right around the corner! I am so ready for christmas break - I need a break from school and an opportunity to re-organize my priorities, gather my thoughts, and somehow get my school-work-ethic back - since it seems to have disappeared! I am looking forward to spending more time at Why Not Missions over the break, hopefully two or three nights a week when I am at my dads, because as it gets colder its harder to be out on the streets, and Why Not becomes an even more valuable place. I look forward to going to my home town, Hamilton, and catching up with all the people I  haven't seen in forever, visiting my old church, and seeing my family. I feel like the Christmas break will be a really good time for me to take a step back from the daily routine of life and everything that is going on, and just spend some really good time with Jesus in prayer and reflection. Am I truly listening to God? I pray that this Christmas break will bring me greater clarity.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Open the Floodgates, Lord...

I am sitting in the student lounge reading update after update of missionaries in Sudan, Kenya, Nepal, South Korea, Israel, India, Indonesia, Philippines, etc. and contrasting their stories from the front lines of their ministry with what I have experienced in North America as a christian. The difference is remarkable, and disheartening. What are we missing? For in every update I read there was miraculous events being reported - one update said, "there are no longer any people left to heal in this village, as they have all been healed!", and that sort of  thing was happening across the different countries and regions where missionaries were working - people being healed, set free from demons, miraculous protection, provision,  little children who can't speak English prophetically praying in fluent English, prostitutes being rescued and healed, and churches springing up because of miraculous donations of land and resources, people being saved in mass numbers and I am left thinking - why doesn't that happen here? I mean, God definitely does work miracles in North America, but it seems like they are not as prevalent here as they are all across the world. I wonder if we are so bombarded by the material world that its difficult for us to have faith in the unseen and the miraculous? Or maybe we are so comfortable in our material world that miracles are not what we really need? Maybe we need conviction and repentance of our hearts for our greed and lack of faith, and a good kick in the butt to start truly living out the Gospel and trusting God to the point that only the miraculous will meet our needs, whatever they may be? Are we starving for lack of faith? Or maybe God chooses to work differently here because of how much wealth and doubt we typically have as compared to most of the world... I am not saying that miracles, for the sake of miracles, are what NA needs, or are the measure of true faith.... but it seems like the Holy Spirit is moving with greater fervor and power in other countries that are less fortunate than us.. and I am left wondering if that is directly related to how materialistic, comfortable, and apathetic we are. I am definitely guilty of not trusting God, and trying to be as comfortable as possible, and living in the grips of fear and doubt. But I don't want to live that way, because it seems that the more risks we take for God, the more we trust Him, and the more uncomfortable we become... the greater is God's power and glory displayed in our lives. Maybe we need to start by asking God to increase our faith, to make us uncomfortable, to give us a heart that wants more than just the comforts of this world....hearts that recognize that eternity is more important than the present world, but that eternity begins NOW, hearts that aren't afraid to dream big because we know that God has bigger plans than we could ever imagine. But if we pray these things... you bet that it will shake our world up and require us to be obedient to whatever it is He calls us to. But if you count the cost... it is beyond worth the risk.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Pain of Beauty

This post will be a little more personal than normal, a little more transparent and a little more difficult for me to write. But, I have a pretty big suspicion I'm not the only one who feels the way that I do, and if my struggle can help someone else, then its well worth any embarrassment I might feel from exposing my insecurity. And this is largely what this post will be about - my insecurities!

Before I go any farther, I have to establish what I believe to be my inner-most desires. I have long known them, they are not something new to me - but they never cease to cause me trouble! I read this book a long time ago, called Captivating (by John and Stasi Eldrige) that not only validated my desires, but also showed me that these desires may not be just specific to me. In other words, it may be a girl thing! And that maybe these desires aren't bad, or wrong, but just need to be channeled or focused in the right direction.

So its time to bare my soul...
1) I desire to be beautiful, inside and out.
2) I desire to have someone notice my heart/beauty, and validate my worth.
3) I desire to be loved and treasured and pursued.
4) I desire to be a part of a greater purpose!

Okay, so I'm sure these all seem very cliche and well "duh.. you're a girl.. girls want to be beautiful, etc." but I don't think people really get how deep these desires run in girls (especially guys!) and how much they effect how we respond in daily situations and  how we view ourselves, etc. Maybe these just apply to me, and don't apply to all girls across the board, but I think in some way, every girl struggles with some aspect of this! I know in my own life, that these questions (because they really are questions... "Am I beautiful? Am I worth loving? etc) have often overwhelmed me. I think some situations in my life have caused me to struggle with my self-worth more than the average girl, but at the same time I would be very surprised to meet a girl that claims to have never struggled with her self-worth!

Like they say in Captivating,  its easier to see these desires in little girls - because generally, we want to dress up, we want to be the 'princess,' we want to show ourselves off and hear our dads compliment us - and then as we grow up we still want to be beautiful (which may translate for some of us to 'sexy') and we want the attention of guys, we want to fall in love, and we will often cause ourselves heartache by letting ourselves be controlled by these desires.And I am no stranger to that!

And its tough, because the world seems to tell us that if we don't fit the stereotypical model of beauty, if we aren't thin, if we aren't wearing the trendy or sexy clothes, then we won't be considered beautiful, and then consequently we aren't loveable. A lot of girls look at magazines and movie stars or even girls that more closely fit the 'ideal' and feel despair at not measuring up to those standards, and will try many different  ways to become like 'them.' Or they may simply give up, resigning themselves to being "ugly" or "unlovable". Somehow we have gotten it into our heads that only things/people that are beautiful are worth loving. And indeed, society seems to perpetuate this idea. And if you're like me, and you take that to heart, it can be heartbreaking! 

I don't know if its because of my parents divorce, or the general emotional absence of my dad, or what it is - but I have over the course of my life struggled with believing that I was worth loving. That anyone would take the time to truly get to know me and STILL love me after finding out all my flaws. If you really know me, will I still be worth your time? And what about my physical appearance? I am not thin, I am not the stereotypical beauty! I still remember the day that I stared at myself in the mirror and cried. And the day someone close to me told me that "no guy will ever want you unless you lose weight" - multiple times they told me that. It was like hammering in the nail. I am not sure of who I am on the inside OR on the outside. Loneliness is a girls worst enemy. And it scares us. We don't want to be alone. This has caused me to shed many tears!

And all this insecurity can lead to trying to fill those desires with the wrong things. For girls, we generally attempt to find our worth in a guy. If I have a boyfriend, that means that I must be worth it - but I better make sure I keep myself pretty, that I make sure I'm what he wants, otherwise I'll lose the one thing that I believe validates who I am. But a guy isn't the only thing we can use to validate our worth - it can be success, family, friends, etc. But at the back of our minds there is always that nagging question, "Am I really enough? Am I worth anything?"

And for a good chunk of my life, and even now, I suffer from the "one-day-my-prince-will-come-syndrome" and it really is a terrible thing to base your self-worth on. Because if "he" doesn't come, if "he" doesn't choose you, then you start to believe what Satan wants you to believe: that your worthless, unlovable, not worth anything, not worth fighting for.And even if "he" does...insecurity will still hound you! What if you lose him? What if he doesn't treat the way you want to be treated? Its such a load of crap... but so easy to believe!

And this brings me to the good thing about these desires! I believe I have these desires for a reason. I believe you, whoever you are, have the desire to be loved, to be beautiful, for a reason. Because God gave us those desires - and He intends for those desires to be satisfied by Him.He gives you those desires, those longings, so that you will be drawn to Him. Because He is the lover of your soul. But Satan also wants to destroy this... he doesn't want you to realize this. He wants to keep you trapped in insecurity, fear, and self-loathing.

And this is the portion of the post where I begin to preach/talk to myself - because I know these things in my head, but I don't think they have really penetrated my heart yet. I still really struggle with this!

God loves me. LOVES me. ME.
God loves you. LOVES you. YOU.

And He made me the way that I am. He says I'm beautiful. He loves, He cherishes, He pursues, He values, He respects, He protects, He provides for, He challenges... ME. YOU. Even though the world/Satan may try to tell me that I have no worth a part from my outside appearance... God looks at the heart! And He loves us even when we don't feel pretty on the inside! Even when our hearts are full of sin and struggle and weakness. He still loves us. He still pursues us. He still is with us. He still has plans for us!

When I am lonely, He is with me. When I feel worthless, He shows me His love.

My desire to be beautiful is met by God.

My desire to be loved is met by God.

My desire to be cherished and treasured is met by God.

My desire to be  a part of a greater purpose is met by God.

And I desperately need to get the idea that "beauty" is the deciding factor of whether or not I am loved out my head and heart. Because that's a lie. And I need to get the idea that some allusive "guy" will solve all my insecurities out too. Because 'he' won't. He may even make them worse!

I don't want to live with my heart on my sleeve because I need someone to tell me that I have worth.
Thats a road that leads to heartache, and I have experienced it enough times to know that.

But my heart is slowly learning.... and I really wish it would learn faster!! These desires can be really burdensome!

Jesus loves me so much that He died for me. HE DIED FOR ME. I can never, ever experience a love like that any where else. His love is THE reason for me to live. His love makes me beautiful. And He delights in me! What does it mean to be delighted in?! I am not entirely sure, but I know that my heart longs for it!

This is an incredibly long post, but this issue is so central to who I am, so central to me as a woman, as a girl, as a daughter of the King. And I need to get it.

You need to get it. You are loved. Period. You are worth Him dying! Period.  And this goes for guys as well as girls! You don't need to be perfect, or beautiful. God delights in your quirks, the things that make you - you, the funny way you laugh, everything - because He made you! You don't need to hide who you are - and you most certainly don't need to pretend that you have it all together, or that you are something that you are not, or that if you make a mistake - the game is over and you are no longer worth loving.

Honestly though, I don't know if I am even getting it. Its too good to be true - but I firmly believe that these desires are not meant to tear me down, but are meant to build me up in my identity as a daughter of the King, as the bride of Christ.

I pray that both you and I get this... because the pain of believing we are not loved is not worth it.And not what God intended for us.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Life in His Hands

This past Thursday I once again volunteered at Why Not Missions, but it was the first time I had volunteered there on a normal day - since so far Why Not had been in a transition from one building to another. The house has a pool table, a shuffle board table, and an intense gaming room with three big screen televisions which make it a very youth-friendly environment. We put on some Switchfoot and the youth began to arrive at about 5PM. At first I found myself intimidated by the youth and didn't know how to approach them. It's different than what I am used to because my only experience working with at-risk youth was in a semi-structured environment where I had some sort of defined role - but at Why Not we are literally there to just hang out with the youth, get to know them, and be their friend. I spent a good junk of the evening just feeling like I didn't know what to do and like I maybe wasn't cut out for this. Everyone else seemed to be talking with the youth and starting relationships, but I was left feeling a bit on the outside.

However, half way through the night I gave myself a pep-talk. Even if the first few conversations are awkward, you can't break the ice without....breaking the ice. And since I plan on volunteering there for the duration of my time at university, there is LOADS of time for me to develop relationships with the youth and the first few awkward attempts will be long forgotten by then! I then went into an empty room and prayed, asking God to give me courage/boldness and humility, and then as soon as I exited that room it was completely different!

I started talking with a bunch of boys and one girl who were playing video games, introduced myself, learned their names, what they like to do for fun, what grade they were in, etc. They were very receptive and seemed happy that I was talking with them. They even let me play some video games (that I failed horribly at! lol) By the time it was time for the hot dog meal program, I was calling many of them by name (with a few mistakes a long the way:P) and ended up playing pool with one youth until 9PM. (He kept insisting he was letting me win... :P) I ended up hearing a part of his story... and for confidentiality I won't post it, but it was tough to hear. The night passed without incident, and I was glad I hadn't let my own fears overcome me. I want to learn what it means to love the youth and keep letting God stretch me out of my comfort zone. It will be interesting to see how God uses my time at Why Not.

On Friday night I attended a youth group in Burford with one of the leaders from IVCF - Alana. We watched a movie called To Save A Life - which is probably one of the best Christian movies I have seen. It begins with two boys (Roger and Jake) who are young and good friends. Roger saves Jake's life by pushing him out of the way of a car, and taking the hit himself (giving him a permanent limp). It then flashes to the funeral of Roger, and a clearly distraught Jake. The focus of the movie is how Jake became popular at high school and ditched his friendship with Roger, which partially contributed to Roger bringing a gun to school and shooting himself. The movie journeys along with Jake as he starts to realize that there is more to life than partying, girls, and scholarships, and him dealing with the suicide of his friend. He is befriended by a youth pastor, and begins to have his life shaken up by God. It is a pretty decent movie - and I totally recommend it! It is definitely a youth friendly movie - and Alana and I talked about potentially doing a movie night on campus with it.

Alana and I had some really good 'life chats' before we left for the event, where we both shared some things that we struggle with and just spent some time getting to know each other better. She is a very kind person and someone I look forward to becoming better friends with. She also informed me that the leaders of IVCF are considering me as a leader for next year - and asked if I wanted to attend a leadership training session in December and if I would want to take on a leadership role. I was really taken aback by the offer, since I had never thought about being a leader. I told her I would pray about it, but that I was excited by the offer. I just want to serve where God is leading me. But who knows what God has planned?

This is turning out to be an uber long post! I am now at home in Hamilton for the weekend - with an essay waiting to be written that I would rather not do... and three adorable puppies to keep me thoroughly distracted! I woke up this morning to the sound of my mom and step-dad fighting, and felt the old familiar twist of anxiety in my stomach. Living away from home makes it easy to forget/avoid the problems that my family is consumed by - but of course coming to visit brings them back into sharp focus. I feel much more anxiety here than I do at my dads... and just in general feel kind of hopeless. The only thing I can do for my family is pray, visit, and take opportunities to minister to them. I don't do that well, and would often rather not face all the pain and brokenness in my family. But I also won't give up hope that God can work a miracle in my family, and that He loves my family more than I do! I just want my family members to be healed, and saved. But its a daunting thing, praying against the darkness that surrounds them. Yet I trust that God is mighty to save, and faithful.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Some random updates...

Tonight I went on a skype with a friend of mine who was a fellow exchange student to Japan, named Mike. We have always got along personality wise, but we almost always end up in theological debates because he is an athiest, and I am a Christian. I hadn't spoken to him in about a year, but the debate started almost right away. He is in school to be a surgeon (can't recall what type) and is very intelligent, and bases everything on science and fact. I am kinda the exact opposite, so it was hard for me to counter argue all of his points, although I managed to hold my ground. The main thing I got from our discussion is that he really doesn't want to believe, and even said that even if  he knew God existed he wouldn't acknowledge Him! (That boggled my mind) And that I am way too concerned with how someone perceives me as opposed to just being concerned with standing for God and truth. That bothers me so much - I just want to be sold out for Jesus. How can a silly thing like wanting someone to like me stand in the way of that? Nonetheless, the conversation challenged me to consider my faith from a different perspective, and to remain steadfast in my faith.

Switching gears, a couple nights ago I was praying for someone, when suddenly I got this huge urge to make a prayer 'wall' on my wall. So at like midnight I got up and painted the words "A Heart of Prayer" with a heart in the center and the names of everyone I am praying for  (and what for) painted around it.. and put it on my wall. It was a really neat time of worship for me - as even though i am not a good painter, I just painted away while listening to worship music and felt God's presence. I hope to pray for all those people /things every night...

Switching gears again...This morning, I woke up at 3 and tossed and turned until about 4:30 when my dads cell phone rang. It was my aunt, who was in complete despair because her dog (who had been in labor that evening) had pushed out a puppy that got stuck, and then consequently that puppy died. So at around 5 we got up and drove to my aunts house to help her take the mother to the vet, because there was still another puppy inside that couldn't come out because the first one was still stuck and blocking the other puppys exit. My aunt was crying hysterically and I tried to help calm her down and speak words of comfort. I love animals, and seeing a dead puppy half out of its mother was really sad, and I prayed the whole drive over that the puppy would still be alive, and that the second one would be alive too. I prayed this mostly for my Aunt's sake because the loss of the first puppy had affected her so brutally. Long story short, although the first puppy did die, the mother ended up having to have a c-section, and the second puppy, against all odds, survived! And it is adorable!!!
I praised God for that, especially because I knew how devastated my aunt would have been if both puppies had been lost.
Needless to say it was one longgggg day... and my dad and I were extremely tired after! Which is why I am officially going to bed now!

Friday, November 4, 2011

I don't know how..

i love you
i wish you would stop
 hurting yourself
and hurting those
around you
i wish i could tell you
i love you
in a way that would
make you believe it ...
in a way that would push through the darkness
in a way that would undo all those years of feeling unloved
i love you
but i don't know how to help you
i dont know how
i dont know how

i dont know how

(but God will make a way)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Hot Dog Buns and...Grace

Every Thursday I volunteer with some other Laurier students at Why Not City Missions - a place where the hungry, the homeless, the mentally ill,  the young, and the old, and all thats in between can come and be welcome for some free food, a warm place, and some good company. They have just moved from their old building which was actually a store front, to a new building that feels more like a home than anything else (well thats what it was before Why Not bought it!). There is even a shower for those that can not receive one otherwise! They are still in the process of organizing, painting, and fixing up the new place - but it will have its first opening on monday... and that is definetly exciting! I have only seen Why Not in its transition mode - so I am excited to be a part of its every-day functioning as well, and to be able to build relationships with the people that come!

Tonight we helped move some boxes and do some organizing, and then helped run their evening program - a hog dog/pizza meal program for anyone that is in need. We ran it for the first time out of the back of the new building - and although not as many people came as there usually is, we still got quite a crowd!
I tried to swing being in charge of dispensing the ketchup, but ended up being delegated to relish duty... which was alright - but it is the most awkward job because you have to use a spoon and spreading the relish can be quite the feat! I got  numerous comments on my relish-spreading skills... :D

We had a lot of hot dogs (but no pizza today) and people were able to come back for seconds, thirds, and even fourths! I myself had three (volunteers get to eat too but I know.. three!!! :O) and we were done the hotdogs by 7 (it started at 6:30)!

However, just as we finished giving out the last hot dog - another person arrived. He was probably in his early 20's and wore dirty, baggy clothes. He was carrying multiple plastic/garbage bags, as if he was carrying his whole life around with him, but aside from that he was just a regular guy. He came and asked if there was any hot dogs left, and we had to tell him no. The look in his eyes was enough to get me, but when his next words were, "Can I have the leftover buns?" I felt heartbroken, and guilty. If only I hadn't eaten 1, let alone 3!! hotdogs... there would have been some left for him. I could tell that he was really in need, really hungry. There was a desperate, defeated, ashamed feel to him... One of the other volunteers handed him a  bag of buns, and feeling like I needed to do something I told him that there was still juice and hot coffee available. He grabbed some and went and sat on a bench off to the side, and everyone went back to packing up and cleaning the tables, moving things inside etc.

I couldn't get him off my mind as I went about helping.. how could there be someone so desperate in our community? someone that hungry? I still feel incredible sadness as I write about him, but we were able to help him a bit more.  I expressed my concerns to another volunteer who had been volunteering there for years, and she encouraged me to talk to one of the leaders there, a man named Dave. I told him what happened and how I felt he was really in need,  and Dave asked me if he was homeless or had a place to live. I had no idea, so Dave went and talked with him. Although I really wanted to know the details, I didn't press but saw that Dave gathered together a package of food from the emergency food bank and gave it to the man. I felt soo thankful that we were able to help him - but it still breaks my heart that there are people that struggle to get the next meal in our seemingly wealthy society. I mean, I knew that before(I worked with at-risk/homeless youth over the summer) but its when you are looking into the eyes of a person that society has let fall through the cracks, a person just like you that is in such need-  that life really comes into focus and you know what it is God asks of you. And I know why it is I volunteer there, and how much more I need to grow - in my faith, and as a person.

To love. To Serve. To go. To live life in a way that doesn't make sense to the world.

I need to pray - that man is still weighing heavily on my heart and mind.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Crazy Love

Tonight, like every other night, I took my dog outside for a brief walk around the yard before I went to bed. Although there are normally stars out when I do this, the sky is usually not clear and the stars seem dimmed (although that makes them no less beautiful). But tonight, the stars seemed extra bright and the sky was clear - only a single stretch of fading cloud was obscuring  a portion of the night sky. And I felt moved, as I often am when gazing up at the multitudes of stars, to praise God. The questions floating through my mind were something like, "Do I even comprehend what I am looking at? That stars aren't just pretty little diamonds floating in space somwhere - but are really huge stars and planets that may even be bigger than Earth, that the creator of the universe made with His own hands, for His glory? Can I even wrap my mind around the fact that God fashioned an infinite number of stars, planets, and galaxies, of which the Earth is merely a pin-prick? And that the me that is standing on my front lawn gazing up at the sky is so incredibly insignificant - even smaller than a pin-prick in comparison with the vastness and beauty of the universe?" I don't think my mind can grasp the magnitude of that - it tries... but how could my mind ever fully grasp how big God is?  What I can grasp more tangibly but still not completely - is how small and finite I am. Yet the God who created all of this universe...loves me! Not only that, but  limited Himself to be born as a vulnerable infant in a obscure town in Israel on a pin-prick of a planet... and then died on a tree for the salvation of those that would rather live as if He didn't exist. The whole thing is rather crazy.