A week ago I talked to someone for a bit about her day and a little bit of spiritual this and that, and then she went to talk to some other people. I watched her as she was talking and I remember feeling very angry and a bit confused – not at her, but at God.
I remember mentally shaking my fist at Him – How can you say you want her to know You when You won’t reveal Yourself to her? And I felt a tad bit confused and heavy-hearted but mostly very self-righteous and insubordinate. Looking back, it kind of reminds me of an October long ago when my brother was little and he really wanted it to snow. He was demanding that it snow that very instant and my mother was unsuccessfully explaining why you simply cannot expect those kinds of things when living in Texas, and he was wailing and crying and pounding his fists and demanding that it snow. And it didn’t.
I can’t really explain to you exactly why it doesn’t snow in October but I know that if it did, chaos would ensue. Throughout this semester I’ve spent a good amount of time begging for God to show up and begging for God to work in people’s lives. And the thing is – He has. But because it’s not snowing I shake my fist at Him and demand to know why things aren’t happening the way I want them to.
And my good friend Donald Miller helped me to kind of see exactly how silly and childish I have been. Because sometimes I forget that Jesus is a person and He loves people very much – much more than I can imagine and infinitely more than I can love people – but this means that He doesn’t love people in a way that I can break down into a few steps. Getting to know people and getting to know Jesus doesn’t happen in a simple formula that you can find in a chart or table. It happens on a beautiful journey filled with lots of unexpected twists and turns and with a lot of steps that don’t make sense at the time but one day all line up.
- It happens when carrying trash bags filled with leaves to the dumpster. I know this because it happened to my friend Elaine, a newly adopted daughter of the King. On May 6th I saw how Jesus transformed her and captivated her heart and never stopped pursuing her.
- It happens when you’re being bullied by the other kids in school. I know this because I saw L put her head on T’s shoulder and listen as T told her that a good thing to do when you’re being bullied is to love your enemies, because that’s what Jesus did. She didn’t understand why people had to be so mean, but she was memorizing verses and learning to pray to a Heavenly Father that loves and cares.
- It happens in a little upstairs room early in the morning when you’re praying for the nations. I know this because I see my friends who at one point half-heartedly followed Jesus, but now will go to the nations, and it reminds me that Jesus is worth it, and that one day the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as water covers the sea.
- And it happens in the corner of JCL with a few pages of scripture and some pens and a whole lot of questions. I know this because I know that His word will not return empty, without accomplishing what He desires and succeeding in the matter for which He sent it.
Eleven months ago I started this blog and I was searching for something but I wasn’t sure what – and now I think I realize that what I wanted all along was just to love Jesus more. I made a promise to myself in the form of Jesus fish tattoo that one day I would learn what it means to really follow Him. Bill Taylor was talking about his wife, a girl who grew up in Highland Park, Texas, and said that she and others made a promise to do anything, go anywhere, and pay any price. You make a decision and that decision turns around and makes you.
A few evenings ago I pretended to be one of those people who appreciate jazz/folk music. I’m not bold enough to say that I can now appreciate good music, but I did think it was very beautiful, the kind of beautiful that makes you feel a pang of sadness. I think Brad Mehldau is something of a genius and I think Chris Thile is simply brilliant, and there were moments when they were playing together that the music or the tune or the composition or the melody or whatever you want to call it was so beautiful and pure and it just made you think of how extraordinary humans are.
And I think it’s somewhat fitting that I just finished reading Blue Like Jazz (finally). Honestly, I don’t think I really liked the book. But at the same time, I think it’s one of my favorite books now, because even though I don’t like it and it kind of makes me sad, I think it’s really true and really beautiful and gives me this feeling akin to heartache. It might possibly be one of the best books I’ve ever read.
And I think these two jazz related things have helped me realize possibly for the first time (actually I might just be being dramatic here) that everybody is a person. Because I think I always pictured myself some time later in my life going to a place where people are more human, like for some reason people in distant far away places are closer to being human than the people here. But my brother made me listen to an NPR thing and I realized that people are all people.
And I think there are certain things about people that make them really human, like really human. I thought about this as I watched Brad play the piano, and it wasn’t like I’d never heard anyone play the piano before but I think it was the way he was moving along with the music and his fingers flew across the keys , sort of like this was something he was born to do. And there are people like dancers and artists and athletes, and people who are just really nice and genuinely care about people, and people who are really funny or people who can cook really well, and then there are people who are really passionate about whatever it is that they love – and all these people are people and it’s really a beautiful thing. And then I think about me as a person and I decided that I am also very much a person because I can appreciate these things about other people.
And it makes me think more about how Jesus is a person. And finally as this whirlwind of a semester is drawing to an end, I’ve finally realized that after being so caught up in His mission and caught up in the planting and building that at the end of the day I just want to fall in love with Jesus.
And I’ve been wondering what that really looks like. The other day we met with the Dillingers, whom I love and admire and obsess over. And there’s something so different about them, a humility that is different from the humility I’ve seen in others. There was none of this acting like their lives were anything extraordinary or that missionary work was anything other than a different choice of vocation. They didn’t think there wasn’t anything special about them or anything more sacrificial about the lives they chose to lead.
Lorraine said she wanted to write a book one day about all they had experienced, and a part of me wanted to tell her that they had to get someone else to write it, because if they wrote it themselves then no one would understand the depth of the sacrifice they made. Because to them, it was less about the cost, and more about being a person and building houses and sharing the gospel and taking care of children, and seeing a people group fall on their knees in repentance.
And it hit me again that none of this really matters if you don’t love Jesus. Being basically a real adult now and all, I’ve been thinking about my future and what it could look like, and I realized how easy it would be to fall into the trap of trying to live faithfully without loving Jesus. And it’s scary to think about how pointless everything is when you don’t love Jesus. The mission field just becomes danger and excitement and an empty zeal that tricks you into believe you’re living for something. Working with the urban poor becomes charity work where you can go home at the end of the day and give yourself a pat on the back and believe you’re some sort of saint. And living a comfortable and economically stable life just turns into living without realizing that it’s the eye of the needle that you’re trying to fit through. Am I reducing people to objects that I use to fulfill my own need to accomplish what I see as God’s mission? Am I reducing the cause and mission of Christ to a task that ensures I’m living faithfully?
Blue Like Jazz ends with Miller just talking about how much sweeter life is when you’re just in love with Jesus. And I think this semester I’ve definitely been able to understand more of what that looks like, but I so wish it could be more.
Okay I’m tired now. Had a lovely 21st birthday filled with coffee and lights and Ron Swanson and too much food and friends and flowers and Paul Farmer and very little alcohol but a really red face.
Someone asked me what my 21st goals were. My goals include bike riding and mandarin learning and hugging and marathon running, but mostly I just want to love Jesus more. Yay Jesus okay goodnight.
When I was younger I had an imaginary friend named April. But the only reason she was my friend was because I knew a lot of other people had imaginary friends and I would read books where other children had imaginary friends so I thought it was only normal if I had one as well. But because I could never quite trick myself into thinking that April was real (probably due to a lack of creativity), I never really talked to her. She had no personality and she was boring and did absolutely nothing besides occasionally sit beside me in the car, staying absolutely silent.
I named her April because April is one of my favorite months (excluding December, obviously). And it used to be because my birthday’s in April, but now it’s because of a reason that I can’t really put my finger on.
It’s definitely not because of my birthday, because birthdays are awful. Birthdays mean people and expectations and this kind of existential loneliness that comes when you’re in a group of people and they’re looking at you but it’s more like looking through you and you just kind of want to be by yourself.
I think it’s because April means I play the guitar more and I sing more. The sun shines more and there is lemonade to drink and shorts to be worn and trees that you imagine climbing all the way to the sky. There’s something about putting away winter clothes that isn’t the same feeling as the excitement of Christmas – it’s not really excited, but more like happy.
Happy because there are people in sandals and flowers to admire and secret gardens to discover. And there are mornings to drink iced coffee outside and warm evenings to walk by yourself.
But then I think about hungry children and broken families. I think about bombs and children crying for their mothers – and in the background I hear the birds chirping and I feel the warm spring breeze – and I think about how the two don’t seem like they’re supposed to be together but they still happen at the same time. A child is starving but the sun is shining here. And I wonder how lemonade and laughter works with tears and brokenness. Because the world tries to keep them separate – but they aren’t.
And I guess I can see how that’s true, because earlier today I found something I wrote about Detroit and forgot about. “In June the Michigan summer breeze is cool and the sun shines just enough to warm the ground below. We were sitting on the porch one day with a Barney puzzle when the mail came in, and Neya received a letter from her pen pal in Ghana. We asked Neya to read it out loud for us, but she only smiled and looked down, too shy to open the letter.”
And it makes me smile a little because Neya is beautiful but her family can’t always provide the best, and her pen pal in Ghana is beautiful but Ghana isn’t always so kind, and their letters are beautiful because they can share their two worlds with pencils and paper and misspelled words.
Yesterday at the end of Perspectives one of the speakers was praying over us, and he said God, I pray for the person in this room who’s the most scared. And when he said that I knew it was me, because I’m scared and sometimes I think about what it takes and I know I can’t do it. But it’s April and I’m coming to the end of two decades of living and I’m not really sure what I have to show for it, so I guess being scared is better than being nothing.
“Miracles happen, but not that often.”
When I heard those words I felt the painful and now familiar feeling of my heart stretching, as if someone was holding two corners of my heart and pulling in opposite directions. She was sharing with us about domestic violence and abuse in Austin and I felt like I was sitting in a boat floating on a sea of brokenness and every word I heard was another weight added to this already sinking boat. Someone asked a question about happy endings and she gave an example of when things had ended well for one family. Miracles happen, but not that often.
And for the past couple of weeks, this heart-stretching phenomenon has been happening more and more often. Because with everything that I want to do in the future and everything I want to do right now, brokenness is just the nature of the line of work. And because I’ve always had such a small heart and my small heart simply just can’t handle it all, I feel like these past weeks have been the beginning of some divine process of pulling and stretching my heart so that it can hold just a little more.
But it hurts in a way I don’t really understand. I was reading Revelations 21:4-5 and I thought about Jesus coming to make all things new and I think that truth hit me for the first time and I didn’t really know what to do and I didn’t really know how to respond and I kind of just wanted to walk away but I couldn’t so I stayed and kind of wanted to cry but not really.
In my sociology class we were talking about the factors that influence whether or not a person wants to know if they’re dying, and it made me sad when the iClicker results showed that the majority of my class thought that a person’s economic background or ethnicity made a difference when it comes to wanting to know if you’re dying. Because research shows that it actually doesn’t, and it made me think of this John Green quote from a book of his that I never read. “What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person.”
Lately I’ve been trying to understand the beauty of the juxtaposition of the strength and fragility of the human spirit. And I think about how my heart is so small and I don’t think it can handle the realities of the world. But I’m starting to see that it’s something of a test of being faithful with the small things. I’ve only seen a glimpse of the brokenness of this world but maybe faithfulness with the small things will stretch my heart enough for the day when the cause of Christ is going to demand more than a few shed tears.
And I think of the few times I’ve truly seen brokenness, and I remember two summers ago. And with all I’ve been learning about human trafficking and sex trafficking I can see that summer in a new light and I feel dirty and sick when I think about what I was doing with my internship. And I think about what happened and I think about discernment and what is right and what is wrong and don’t know anymore. My internship partnered with the Prostitution Diversion Initiative which gave girls a chance to turn their lives around. And it was all in the spirit of loving them and helping them and giving them a second chance but I remember the police walking toward us with arrested prostitutes from the streets, and though we gave them the option of joining the program instead of going to jail, so many of them chose jail.
And I feel sick when I think about it. I think about the pregnant prostitute who was a girl the same age I was and how she told us that all she had ever wanted was to have a baby and nothing can change a person’s life like a baby can. She of course had no idea who the father was but she was telling us that God gave her that baby and for God to answer your prayers sometimes you have to make sacrifices.
And I think about her and her daughter would probably be around a year and a half by now and I think about how Jesus came to make all things new and how I have a small heart but it doesn’t really matter because Jesus is worth it. And I think the best way to put it is how my beautiful friend put it yesterday: “I don’t know how to help but I want to.”