Why does God have me around all the people-pleasers?

Since I have moved about a month ago, I have met the overwhelming power and presence of God over my life. Through a series of events and daily encouragements, I am so convinced that the Lord is with me, and it is certainly his will that I am here, learning to be a teacher. Overwhelming, nearly inexplicable strength has come over me despite having moved to a new city, making new friends, setting new habits, etc. I have found a wonderful church. I have people I am supposed to care for. I am being groomed for ministry through working with children and other people (and their parents). If ever God lays something so thick on your heart about the direction you should go but doesn’t explain it, listen. I would have never expected that the best training I could receive for ministry would be in a Master’s degree program for Early Childhood Education. The Lord knows all the details. I don’t yet, but it’s so obvious that this is his will that it’s hard to worry about all that.

For the past year or so, the Lord has brought friendships in my life with people who instinctively try to make everybody happy. Which to me, is madness. I am direct. I am decisive. I don’t mince words but I’ll go miles out of my way for a friend. I get the feeling that I’m supposed to learn something through all these people, and I have. I get the feeling also that I’m meant to strengthen people somehow, and model/teach about what healing is and the freedom available in Christ. It isn’t always easy.

When you are made aware of people’s needs by the Holy Spirit, that can be a heavy burden. It’s hard watching my friends struggle to parse out how to meet what they need. I often watch people pursue all sorts of paths that I can tell you from my own experience won’t serve you for nothing. I can often tell you why those paths are false, both from scripture and personal experience. I can even tell you what it feels like to be in that specific situation, because I remember. It’s maddening to know what people are going through and only be able to tell them what I know about the truth: That Jesus came and rose again so that we would not just have life, but have it to the full. That Christ is strong enough. That literally the only thing that is going to fill that hole is Jesus. It sounds crazy. It is crazy. It’s also true.

When people see where God has brought me but weren’t witness to where I’ve been, they just have to take my word for it. If you already have a hard time believing, that may be a stretch. I’m just trying to keep the same steadfast behavior and even become more kind. Shifting your heart attitude to a place to where you’re willing to believe that there could be a God takes time. You can’t rush it.

Which is maddening. I know what could heal you TODAY, but most people aren’t ready. I have to patiently wait and continue to show grace until the day comes (if it comes) where you’d be curious or desperate enough to seek Jesus. That’s hard. My soul mourns and cries out watching all of these people killing themselves for a grace that can’t be found where they’re seeking it.

God has honored me by teaching me these things while I am still young, but that’s also difficult. So few people have found God at this age. So few people of my generation believe that Christianity could be genuine. We are scattered in 1000 different directions because of the lack of integrity in the generations before us. We are desperately pursuing authenticity wherever we believe it might be, despite all of these bitter old people who want to act like we’re the most shallow generation that’s ever lived. When you criticize Millennials, you basically admit that you aren’t willing to help us, and you aren’t actually invested in growing the next generation of the kingdom of God. That’s selfish.

Lord, please teach us to bear with one another, ESPECIALLY when it’s hard. We are a people in need of healing. We believe that you are powerful. That you’re strong enough. Please come and heal us through your own name. Amen.

Unpredictable God

Spent most of this morning and a little of last night considering how few of the blessings I take for granted were things I knew about beforehand.

Really didn’t expect Jesus to be as many things as he’s turned out to be. When I decided to give it a shot with my whole heart on study abroad, really didn’t expect this journey would change how I think about everything. Didn’t expect it to so significantly affect my beliefs and my habits. Didn’t ever assume I’d be one of those. Didn’t expect to have peace over what I read in the Bible. Didn’t expect to make peace with the type of churchy people who just seemed to exclude people, just because we believe in the same Savior.

Never expected to meet so many Christians from all over the globe. Never anticipated that my faith would enhance my cultural competency instead of limit it. Never realized that my faith would give me God’s strength to transcend racial barriers that our society so encourages. Never expected to have my own fully-secure identity in Christ that never resulted in me trying to prove anything.

I never expected to have so many friends, let alone live this long. Never expected to know legitimately helpful information that has the power to heal my community and family. Never thought my life could be this useful. Even if there is a lot to live yet, I really did not envision becoming a peacemaker. I never thought I would be able to escape my baggage. For a long time, I was just coasting, trying to keep my head down.

Beyond those easy shores of neutrality, being a Christian actually helps me make sense of the constant chaos and death of this life. My cynicism has recourse, and I find myself hopeful. There is a truth in the redeemed image of humanity that helps the suffering seem justified. For all of us, death is inevitable. In Jesus, there is life in full supply.

For God, who is without sin, there is no death. The Lord does not remain angry. As we live, death is a constant. From the perspective of God, who is eternal, death is the inevitable outcome of humanity’s actions. But despite this world, there is the love of God all around us, constantly available in Christ, and in full supply.

As I prepare to move, I’m looking forward to those blessings remaining unpredictable. The Lord has power and the authority to move and we just have to be willing to respond to him.

Complaining about church people is getting old

While not all of you have the distinct pleasure and short-circuiting obligation of living in a bizarre liberal enclave in the middle of red state Kansas, it can be stressful. I love my friends regardless of their faith backgrounds and belief’s about God, but bitterly complaining about the church only goes so far.

I go to a church full of people with church wounds. Many people at my church understand what it’s like to be hurt in the name of God, and we certainly can empathize. But after a while, that line of rhetoric gets old. Do you hate the church, or do you hate God? If church people weren’t like “church people”, would you actually be here?

I’m calling the bluff of the people that say they’d show up if ________. If you want the church to be different, love God, love him fully, and bother to be here. You don’t have the right to mock churchy people while relying on convenient caricatures. If you want to actually make the church a better place, show up.

Is it about the church, or is it about God? Is it about surrendering your life, or not wanting your life to be like the people you don’t get along with? Ultimately, your worship is unto Christ. Would you be willing to be on board with that, or are you just wasting everybody’s time?

I don’t complain about atheists, and I don’t complain about agnostics, and most of my church friends are accepting of more offense than the non-Christian friends I know. Most of us actually care. Many of us show up for things. A lot of us care for your children, and are a generally helpful and kind bunch. I’m sick of you insulting an entire group of people because you are sublimating your resentment of God. It’s not about those churchy people who that one time hurt you, because ultimately, it’s you that has to forgive. Even if forgiveness absolutely sucks. A lot of people wouldn’t come to God if he clapped his magical nail-scarred hands in front of their faces and screamed, “Hey, I’m here!” I resent the fact that you find it easier to complain about God’s people than growing a pair and taking your complaints to the Creator, who already hears them. If you want answers, go to God. Stop complaining fruitlessly in a way that makes it impossible to forgive. A lot of us church-folk have been in the place where you’re standing right now, and a lot of your apprehension is at most convenient.

If you want to get legitimate answers and deal with your wounds head on like an adult, ask the one who can answer you and stop blaming the rest of us, regardless of how we actually are in person. There is nothing church people can give if you aren’t willing to let God be God. Maybe you’re hurting because you expected church people to be Jesus and they couldn’t have been, or will never be. Maybe it’s time to accept that expecting other people to be perfect is a short-sighted freaking problem. If you want Jesus, go to Jesus. The rest of us cling to faith, and do our best to talk about him. You should probably seek out the real thing.

Feeling better helped

As I’ve been reading my bible more lately, I notice that I remember to surrender my worries to God.

It’s a precarious time of year for someone so ready to move on. I’m learning to lean on God’s strength when I’m ready for college to be over.

Some life hacks I only would have considered by being reminded of God’s power:

  • I’ve spent four years complaining about the Psychology department. I’ve spent 6 months praying for them, my professors and classmates. Am I a fool or just human to waste so much time? Being a Christian only the last two of those years, it took me a while to surrender my worries to God after I took notice of them. Yes, it can be hard to know how to perform without clear expectations, and more often than not, my professors seem scattered. But I prayed the other night that God would show me how not to hate one of my professors, and guess what happened? This random dude named Terrance spent 10 random minutes filling me in on the fact that our professor is just a space cadet, that the way he acts in class is just his personality, and (go figure), I shouldn’t take it too much to heart. I can pray for my professor all the more now. Problem solved. Thanks, Jesus.
  • When I don’t feel like I have enough strength to invest in friendships (especially with underclassmen who look to me for encouragement/direction), I have the option to call on God, who will give me more than enough stamina to help me be kind and lean in. This year has been the biggest growth year of them all, and God has honored me by helping me lean in, despite it being the last year of college. Now that I have definite plans, it’s so easy to back away from people as a self-protection mechanism. But all of that is bullcrap. I can continue to share people’s burdens. The Lord will give me the strength. My best friends ever are from this year. I’m going to keep casting my burdens upon the Lord and he will give me what I need if I just ask him.
  • My gospel choir has a big concert event coming up, and when our exec board told us to each take a pinch of flyers to pass out, I thought to myself: “Oh Lord have mercy.” Feeling overwhelmed and tired of relying on my own strength, I was annoyed, and concerned that I would have no place to post them. So I prayed about it. I asked God to reveal to me the places where I can put these flyers, or where people might see them. Tomorrow we have rehearsal again. I’m picking up another pinch because by the grace of God, I ran out of flyers. I have at least three more spaces I need to put them (places I’ve steadily been noticing), and like that moment where Christ shows up after the Resurrection after Peter and two others have been fruitlessly fishing and they have to cut the net because it’s so full of fish, I may not have enough flyers to go around.
  • I’m working towards gathering people for an interfaith event in my city, where we will ask local government to commit towards making progress on issues of justice for mental health, childhood trauma, and affordable housing. It’s been an interesting time giving up my Saturday mornings to commit towards furthering the goals of the organization that will host it. I’ve overwhelmed because it’s been hard gathering the amount of people we want to show up. The Lord (through the encouragement of my team and ministry friends) has provided a strategy for me to communicate with everyone who committed to go (my section of people). I’ve prayed that the right people would come and that we’d be able to pack the house. Lo and behold, a couple handfuls of people keep contacting me in order to be put on the list. Watch if we don’t run out of tickets.
  • I have a couple good friends who allow me to talk honestly with as much insight as God has given me in a way that doesn’t make me feel awkward. I can explain why I believe Satan has been able to help prosper a certain sin, trace some of the reasons I believe we as a society are stuck in a certain way, and we can talk through the things we see and find a sense of belonging. I’ve felt unappreciated a lot in the past and basically shunned for not being able to stop noticing the things I notice, or care for the people I care about, or believe the things I believe. For now at least, I don’t have to stay silent. I can be understood, and hope that God uses this sorrow/anger/recognition for a holy reason.
  • There is this boy in my Intimate Relationships psych class that looks at me in a way that is like unwanted attention. Some of his body language and general posture of being makes me think he’s insecure. Today in class, I wanted to put my hair up, but didn’t want to draw any extra attention. That line of reasoning no longer works on me. It’s not up to me to save you. It’s not up to me to make you feel a certain way. My hair is heavy, and I want it off my head. Maybe it’s just because I’m a woman who already has to think about everything, but if I need to pull my hair back, it’s not my responsibility to ruminate over your feelings. There is nothing I can do as a woman to help make you secure, and it’s not up to me to police my behavior to not lead you on. If I have no interest, that is obvious. My hair is freaking heavy. I have heavy hair.
  • It’s becoming very obvious that I have no power to make people accept Christ. I can walk out my Christian walk. I can try to be more like Jesus. I can tell people about Jesus. I can tell people about scripture. At the end of the day though, I make a pretty crappy Jesus. And not even Christ could force people to believe in him. They had to receive him. I can’t receive on your behalf. If you wont take the stupid grace, my hands are more or less tied. I will still walk out what it means to be a Christian. Sometimes though, it’s hard to have this overwhelming sense of truth while overwhelmingly aware that the world lives as though they have no need of it.
  • It’s really weird to have people appreciate you for things you weren’t aware were visible. I’ve been in my own little bubble of just trying to do the right thing for so long that when somebody actually notices or appreciates it I’m not even sure how to react. Yes? Yes, I do that. God is good. I’m still surprised that you see these things. I’m used to being the only one who sees these things.
  • It’s like not understanding people’s sarcasm. I know that the person I’m talking to thinks that they have just made a funny joke. I can follow the reasoning for why they probably think it’s funny. What I’m not aware of is whether they are being “ironic” because of the line of reasoning I’ve guessed, whether they’re just pulling my leg and there’s nothing to see, or whether they are using some extra line of crap joke that I have yet to see. Sometimes when people are sarcastic, they make fools of themselves in ways they don’t even realize that can be funnier than their dumb jokes to begin with. Sometimes when a person is sarcastic and I laugh, their jokes aren’t actually as funny as the context. Is it me who doesn’t get the joke, or is it you?

 

Let it be what it is

Have you ever noticed how **freaked OUT** people get when something they can’t quite place reminds them of something else they are already afraid of? Like a little kid that calls everything with four legs “doggie” because she hasn’t learned the word for “horse”, having a deeper appraisal of the world might inform how Christians look at certain “problems”.

Let me give you an example. In Kansas, there are so many people who will never go to big cities or want contact with the exceedingly populous rest of the world. To be honest, I can understand that. Though I will be moving to Washington, DC in a mere four months, I am going to miss the wide open spaces, cloud forms, and sense of quiet as much as anyone. But along with all of our milkweed and open expanses of prairie, it can be easy for people to base their entire understanding of a group of people or a specific thought off of a character on TV. I bet you plenty of Kansans have never eaten dinner with a Muslim. I bet you that plenty of Kansans don’t understand the deep loneliness that envelops same-sex attraction and how social rejection makes spiritual pain worse. We aren’t necessarily a stupid people, but there are things that we just don’t come into contact with as much as the more industrialized world. And while I can tell you plenty of people I know that can give you one helluva deal on fixing your car/plumbing, or could resettle your cracking foundation (of a house) for free, I really doubt that self-reliant DIY home skills are in as quick supply in the urban core.

It’s possible to disagree with most of another person’s beliefs and still care for them as a person. Just because a person represents a category of things we don’t understand doesn’t mean that God doesn’t want them to miss out on Jesus or for us to take it easy. I feel like a lot of Christians have this mindset of “I’m going to take it easy and watch people burn”, and that’s some bullcrap. God uses some pretty bizarre people and means to tell people about his son. Are we really going to settle for resentment?

For real though, the joy is out there

I have been spending large quantities of time recently writing privately, and trying to figure out why I’m so regularly happy. While I can’t forget my past history of depression, the joy that I have in Christ seems obscene most days, and it’s lasted long enough that I no longer think it’s temporary.

It feels like a cycle of gratitude. Like the opposite of rumination and unhealthy thinking; like you’re being filled up. I have lived through enough mistakes at this point to understand that a person’s mistakes don’t determine their identity, but lack of health can absolutely distort who we are made to be in Christ. As I get more filled up, I am grateful for having perspective. While I used to despise people who were legitimately happy (including Christians), I now understand that being a few steps ahead of people who are currently suffering has nothing to do with what a jerk I must be (and especially for talking about it), but how I can minister to people in prayer and encouragement.

Honestly, it’s almost better to encourage quietly. While I can sometimes catch the patterns of what God is trying to teach people, it’s only seldom, with hope and guessing. Because I know personally how much mental health problems (or any sort of grief-inducing circumstances) suck, I have the blessed responsibility of interceding for people in prayer. It’s one of those things that is better done discretely because it’s not for your credit anyways. If God saves people from their pain, that is blessing enough.

I always thought the happy people were either “holy than thou” or completely spared from misfortune. Maybe happy people are just lucky, either for a while or a season, and it is just their duty to help intercede for the rest of us. When you live in community, it’s hard not to know when someone else is having a hard time. In my opinion, it’s more effective to ask God to help on the long run than to interject yourself into a person’s friend-zone without getting to know them first. Being kind to people and praying for them can be combined, and you can ask God to give you opportunities to minister to the people who you notice are hurting.

I don’t really know how this joy has come into my life, despite years of working towards it. This kind of joy isn’t something that can be earned, and I’m so grateful that it’s been made available to me in Christ Jesus. As a fairly young Christian, I often wonder if there is any explanation for why some people are willing to encounter this kind of joy, and some people never do. Just like wondering whether there is meaning in suffering, I question whether there is all that much meaning in the joy. Like, is encouraged by self-reflection? Does it have to do with suffering? Is it related to being open to criticism? Is it fair to even talk about joy (because that’s not really a problem)?

If this joy is so rapidly available to all who believe in Jesus, why do so few people follow through long enough to find it? Why is it that there are so few Christians that live truly productive, joyful, and satisfied lives? Do people just not know what they’ve signed up for, or do they just become alien to the Holy Spirit? I don’t really understand. If Christ’s love is the only thing that can heal, and truly heal, how can you be so close to the vine and not crave after it’s fruit? Like, do you even believe it’s there?

I totally didn’t. Part of me still thinks it’s got to be a joke, even if by living it out, I know that it’s real. I thought that perfect happiness was a fad or something Hallmark invented. Every day, I’m a little more sold.

But it’s out there: true love and joy and perfect peace and happiness and the whole shabaang. It looks exactly the opposite of what we all hope it will look like. Which makes living in happiness feel all that more bizarre. I consistently feel like my life is the living joke no one has the guts to believe in. Believing in death/destruction/pain/suffering/war? Those are such plausible renditions of reality. But joy that transcends death, space, time, and betrayal? That one takes a lot of guts to believe in.

Through Mary, restoring Eve

1 Timothy 2:15 But women will be saved through childbearing–if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. (NIV)

Genesis 3:16 To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you. (NIV)

Psalm 132:11-12 (NIV):

The Lord swore an oath to David,
    a sure oath he will not revoke:
“One of your own descendants
    I will place on your throne.
12 If your sons keep my covenant
    and the statutes I teach them,
then their sons will sit
    on your throne for ever and ever.”

Luke 1:38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. (NIV)

Mary’s role in the Christmas story has always been mesmerizing to me. I am lucky this Christmas, because I will be able to savor this holiday with the realization that Mary’s obedience and her act of childbearing by birthing the Christ was in order to restore humanity, after Eve’s sin. While I believe that there is ample evidence in Genesis to condemn both men and women in the Fall, I have never thought of Christmas as the birth of a Prince of Peace that would bring about the salvation of Zion (and Israel) specifically through female imagery.

With Zion’s bridegroom being Christ, it makes sense that the Lord would rule over her, since he is holy. Instead of being coerced by fellow human beings who are also guilty of sin, Zion (as the body of believers) has hope in the leadership of Christ because he is righteous and laid down his life for her best interests. Having taken centuries to become fulfilled, the symbolism of birth and labor pains (Romans 8:22) is so appropriate to the redemption we are given by new life in Christ, given the struggle it has taken creation to get there.

I think 1 Timothy 2:15 may also be a good depiction of Mary’s character. Having the outlandish faith to 1) Believe that God’s promise would be fulfilled, and 2) Live by faith after she had decided to go ahead and accept God’s word as truth must have taken a lot of character. Without Mary’s willingness to suffer alongside her Son, none of this would have been possible. With Mary starting out in the Christmas Story as a Virgin, in the same stage of life as Zion awaiting her husband, you can bet that symbolism was on purpose.

Mary’s lineage was blessed because of the faith of her ancestors, and because at various points, all these different people had decided to appeal to God, and he remembered them. Without suffering and without learning from their sin, they would not have received the blessing, and correspondingly necessary correction, that comes from God. While so many people have yet to hear of this completed miracle, offered to us by the blood and grace of Christ, it is amazing to me that God’s steadfast nature called this battle finished before Christ was ever fully incarnate. God had been promising and promising a solution, and finally they received into the world his word made flesh. God knew he was going to fulfill his promise then (really, long before it), but he tested people’s faith so that they would trust in him. Thirty-three years later and by resurrecting a fallen Savior, we have the eternal life that every human, from the first sin to the Fountain of Youth to Ponds beauty cream has been looking for. We finally have those streams of living water. In this little baby, we have finally received our King.