Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Consolation Prize

I woke up this morning with the sun on my face. Looking out my window I could see the sky, a perfect Colorado blue, the type of sky that John Denver sings about in Rocky Mountain High. Just another perfect day in a seemingly perfect place.
Serenity should be the state of my heart, perfect peace as I look out my sliding door to see a few lonesome puffy white clouds floating across the perfect sky. However, the past few days have lead me to a numerous onslaught of thoughts.
Thinking, pondering, over thinking, analyzing, that's sort of how my life cycles. For an extrovert I tend to be a very introspective thinker. My freshman year of college I picked up a journal, and have written in a journal nearly every day since. I have an entire shelf filled with old journals, and on a rare occasion I like to read through what my hopes and dreams were just a few short years ago, and how much I have grown and changed. God has been abundantly faithful to me, and that is so clear in the pages written so clearly in my own hand.
Yet, for some reason I still tend not to trust him as much as I should. The other day I heard that someone I trusted was spreading rumors about me at church. Gossip gets under my skin, because I have seen it destroy churches completely, to the point where I've seen churches have to close their doors. Gossip is never constructive, it's always destructive. It is never helpful, it is always hurtful.
It felt as though I had stepped out of the world of the youth pastor, and into the life of one of my middle school students. How many times have I held them as they have told me of the cruel things people have said behind their back? How many times have they had to go back and look into the faces of their accusers?
Yet, here I was, frustrated, confused, hurt, and angry as someone hadn't approached me to clear up a misunderstanding, but made it worse by calling everyone about it.
I let my frustrating seep into me, grab a hold of my heart, and nearly suffocate it. For though my hurt was coming from a place deep within me, and I had every reason to feel hurt, I forgot a very important fact "If God is for us, who can be against us?" Romans 8:31. For a few moments I thought that it was when people said nice things about me that I am following God's will, yet it is the opposite. I forgot that the desire of my heart is to be more Christ like, and that in being like Christ I also must enter into his sufferings, sufferings that went far deeper than rumors and lies. I seemingly forgot that I am not trying to gain the approval of men, but of God. For it is God who holds me accountable in the end, not someone in my congregation.
"As a consolation prize we may sometimes remember the words of Jesus: 'Woe to you when all people speak well of you,' and take comfort that we have at least escaped that woe."
~J. Philip Wogaman
And at least for now, I have escaped that woe.

Monday, April 20, 2009


My students don't have school today. It's April 20th, 2009, exactly 10 years from the columbine shootings at columbine high school. I drove past the school today and saw the camera crews, the masses there paying respects. It is an honorable thing to do, and it is beautiful to see the love and respect, however, the reason I was driving by the school was because I had to teach at another school. A school that no one outside of Denver has every heard of, but a school where violence occurs almost regularly.
I mentioned to the person I was teaching with that I found it odd that a school so close to Columbine had school today, while all of my students in Littleton did not. That's when I learned a different side of the story, the perspective from those who don't live in suburban america and it was interesting. He told me that the days after columbine where very polarizing to the neighborhoods in Denver. Though they felt it was a horror, and they felt compassion for the people who had lost loved ones, they struggled to understand why this violence was broadcast so widely around the world, while the violence that plagued their halls everyday goes without notice.
I began to think about it. It is interesting that the violence of one school could change so many schools around the country, while others were virtually unaffected by it, not because they didn't care, but because they live with violence all the time.
My students don't really remember the shootings at Columbine, most were in pre-school, though I do have friends that are Columbine alum who were there when it happened. I know people who remember it vividly and describe in great detail the events of the day.
Though I remember and am saddened for the great loss, I am hanging out with a different crowd today. A crowd of students who feel like their only hope is in gang violence. A group of students who walk the halls afraid everyday. Students that I myself have watched be cruel to one another and wonder how far the cruelty would go. It is for these students who don't make the news because they are expected to be violent, a group of students at a school in an area that most people from Littleton won't even drive through.
It's not just a day for remembering a shooting in a suburban high school, it's a day for everyone everywhere who has believed the lie of redemptive violence. That has been suckered into the fantasy world that one more punch, one more put down, one more gun shot will solve our problems. If nothing else, this day reminds us that violence wherever it is wrought does not free us.

Friday, April 10, 2009


Dark chocolate is probably my favorite. Something about how it is not too sweet, it's sort of, well, bitter. Bittersweet seems to make the sweet aftertaste even better than just the sugary sweet of milk chocolate.
Bittersweet doesn't only describe the state of my favorite chocolate, it also describes my state of life as a youth pastor. Though most people get to see the fun parts, the lock-ins, the retreats, the tons of pizza consumed, and the teen drama day... I get to see all the parts. The parts that are far from fun.
The eyes I have been given see scars on the arms of kids who feel ugly and used, scars put there by themselves. I have seen them walk away from everything they have known to stick one more needle in their arm, one more razor blade to their thigh, one more pornographic picture in front of their face. I've watched girls as they've urinated into cups as they cry tears, hoping and praying to God that He will save them from the consequences of a choice they've made, only to go home and celebrate that everything came back negative with a night of senseless sex, to return again. The tears that have been cried at the altar, I've seen turned in anger towards myself for taking the side of a parent, for being the one who is trying to show them truth when the world is trying to sell them lies, just to have them walk away cursing my name directly into the arms of the lies that want to claim them.
There are moments of joy, immense joy, but there are also moments of such great pain and heartache, that I begin to wonder, if my small glimpse of pain is this bad, what it must be like for Christ every time they hurt themselves?
Sometimes the exhaustion sets in. The tired eyes, the weakened heart, and I wonder how people have done this for years. I wonder how they have woke up each day for 15 years to do it all over again.
Tonight I was reminded, that though I grow weary, God never does. Though my heart breaks, his breaks more. Though I love these kids, there is one who loves them more deeply than I ever could, and I know that He is capable of doing more than I could ever think or imagine. He is capable of putting back together broken lives, of healing open wounds, of being the only love that we will ever need.
It is in that, that I put my hope and trust. Hope and trust that God, who has always been faithful, will be faithful once more. Hope and trust that God will be strength when I have none less, and will give me the words when I don't know what to speak. Hope and trust that this too will be made right.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Subtle Seed of Hatred

To say that I am appalled by racism would be a vast understatement; especially when I am confronted with such forms of hatred in the church. They are more subtle than they used to be, a comment here, or there, but just as ugly and hate filled.
Ethnocentrism is a pet peeve of mine, because it seems so clear in scripture that such a lifestyle shouldn't even be in our mindset. Our minds should be focused on loving God and others, all of the commandments hang on these two commands.
In my idealism and naivety, I just assumed that the concept of love is a no brainer to Christians, and that racism (of all things) would be considered wrong.
Then a comment was made to me the other day that has bothered me ever since. I mentioned to a member of the church that I was teaching a few abstinence classes in a school nearby. I continued by mentioning that they were good kids, the comment returned to me was, "good?! That's not what I've heard. I had a friend who went there and she said she was the only white girl in the school!" Maybe this particular person didn't mean it the way it came out (I am going to give the benefit of the doubt on this one.) However, I was insanely hurt. I've spent 4 days with these amazing, smart, beautiful kids, and someone made the assumption that because there is diversity in the school, they aren't good kids!
When did we start thinking things like this? When did we think it was ok to say that kids that are privilidged enough to go to a better school, are automatically better kids?
It is stereotypes like these that keep things from getting better. Not to mention, I still think that if more Christians would stop living in fear and live by the great commission and great commandment, there wouldn't be any school with violence, hatred, etc. because we would have already conquered it with our love.
This was a reminder to me, to watch my words. To watch my labels. To watch writing people off before I give them a chance. Genocide is started with racism and hatred, redemption is started with love.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Life is beautiful despite the busy

I recently recieved my acceptance letter to Christian Peacemaker Teams' delegation to Tiquiso, Colombia in july. It is what I've prayed for, and i look forward to it every day. Time will go by faster than it seems, and before I know it, I will be bake from the life changing trip and sharing pictures and stories with everyone.
However, my restlessness is getting the best of me. Though I am insanely busy all the time. This week alone I am teaching 3 classes at a middle school, doing all my normal youth pastor stuff, and getting ready for another choir performance on Friday (followed by Easter).
When my brother was here last week visiting, he asked me what my plans were for easter. I told him I didn't have any. Honestly, that sounds wonderful right now. I still haven't done my taxes, and am feeling the crunch, and have a huge paper due for class next week. I am also officiating a wedding next weekend, and getting ready for Invisible Children's "The Rescue", as well as preparing 30 hour famine for my students.
Life doesn't ever seem to slow down. Things just seem to get busier and busier.
It's difficult to remember to take care of myself, to take a mental break, to enjoy the beautiful weather outside, when it seems like there is always something else going on.
God is moving, it is so clear that He is, and I am excited to be a part of the adventure, even if I am running on near empty right now... Christ is risen, and life truly is beautiful.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Snow day

Snow is one of my favorite things in the world. That may seem strange to many people, but I have always enjoyed it. The beauty of it, the cold air in my lungs, how silent it falls on a world of darkness turning into pure light. I can remember standing in the middle of my street in Kankakee and looking up at the street lights as the snow gently fell to the ground around them; this generally noisy street in the city, perfectly silent as if it had been transported to a different place in time.
Today was the first snow day I've had since moving. Feet of snow fell in a short amount of time, and everything was canceled and even businesses closed. I worked from home versus making the drive to the church today, just to be on the safe side. No one would expect me in under such conditons anyway. Though I normally love the snow and embrace it, it seemed so much my enemy today.
Contentment has resided in my heart over the last month or so, which is a great state of being considering where I was just a few short months ago. Yet, today, I was far from content... I was lonely. Though my marital status has generally been a non-issue, because I am following Christ wherever that leads and whatever that means for me, today it became an odd issue in my heart. I've always stated that marriage isn't the goal following Jesus is, and I still believe that whole heartedly, but today I started to allow myself to ask the question of why that can't be a part of the journey I am on?
Maybe because most days aren't snow days. Most days I'm running around involved in 550 different things, working 18 hour days, and in my spare time reading enormous amounts of books. Most days I don't look at myself and wonder what went wrong and when. I don't generally think about any of that. I tend to find freedom in being single, in applying to go places like Colombia (where i could easily get taken hostage or be killed). Even though today was a rough day, most days, I tend to think about how much more growing I have to do before I would be capable of being a good wife to anyone. Not to mention my complete unwillingness to compromise on any of my standards, which limit the number of men I could even date down to 5, 2 of whom probably live in another country, and 1 has probably died (given the things I'm interested in... see Colombia comment). Which leaves me with 2, one of whom I've already dated, and has made his exit from my life.
It would be nice somedays to share life with someone. To talk about faith and politics. To talk about dreams, and plan adventures all over the world with. To sit and watch the snow fall. To go to peace rallies with. To talk about books I'm reading with. To watch foreign films with. To cook breakfast with. To hang out with homeless people with. To pray with and hope with and strive to bring the kingdom of God to earth with.
Today as the snow fell that's all I could think of, and for the first time since January, I actually allowed myself a few moments to be sad that I was so close to having that, and it just didn't work.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Time Flies By On Broken Wings

It has been two months. Two months since I was sitting in the living room of my friends' apartment at ONU eating pizza and talking about life.
I was struggling so much then, like a bird with two broken wings, unable to to fly and see beyond my current circumstances. Everything around me seemed to be crumbling. It was as though when I gave myself the freedom to dream, those dreams crashed as quickly as they had taken off, as I fell out of the safety of the nest instead of soaring above the tree of cynicism which had sheltered me for so long.
Sitting in the living room I was told that time would go faster than it seemed at the time. That before I knew it 5 months would come and go, and summer would be upon us. Time to make decisions would be here, and I would be confronted once again with the confusion which has so plagued my heart since the hot summer days of August.
Time has gone faster. Here I sit, 2 months later with so much more time under my belt. Those two months have given me a vastly large amount of perspective. Hopefully with that perspective I have been given some amount of wisdom as well.
Failure has plagued me, as I've watched myself make mistakes, as I've watched myself fail to trust, as I've watched myself doubt when i should have had immense hope. But Failure isn't how I'd define the last couple of months. Hopeful might be a better word. I've learned what it means to hope. I've embraced what it means to love all of those around you, not just those who you would like to love, but also those who are different and have vastly different beliefs than you. I've learned what it means to have true friends, friends who fly 1300 miles to spend spring break with you, and listen to your cynicism towards romance for the millionth time without criticism.
God is in the business of creating life out of death. He is in the business of redeeming wreckage and restoring it into something beautiful. This is truly what I have experienced these last two months. For i have seen God provide in the form of a house to rent with a yard, and a basement, when i had only dared to think for a few moments of the ministry I could do if I had a house to rent. I've seen Him provide in the form of anonymous amounts of money left in my mailbox at church. He's provided in the form of a wonderful tea shop that makes me feel like a part of a community, where everyone knows my name, and I can meet new people. When it felt like the loneliness would never subside, He provided for me wonderful friends, both near and far. He provided friends and family the opportunity to come and visit. When I started to doubt my ability as a youth pastor, He provided for me students who told me what I meant to them. Thus, out of my brokenness came immense strength.
I can't lie and say I don't still harbor cynicism towards some things, for that is probably stronger in certain areas than ever before, but I can say that I have grown more than I ever thought possible in such a short time.
God is moving. I can feel Him, I only pray to be a part of the rhythms of that movement.