Coming home

Coming home.png

Coming home.

At the end of a vacation or trip away to camp, you’re supposed to feel satisfied, like you had a wonderful time but are ready to come home. Coming home is supposed to feel like bringing your heart back to where it belongs. It’s supposed to be the comforting return to normal life, normal routines.

But what about when your heart and life doesn’t match up with what is “supposed to be”?

What about when your reality is messier than that?

*    *     *

The last few days in the Netherlands were hard. My return flight was looming and everything in me was crying out “I’m not ready to leave yet!” Of course I missed my family, and wanted to see my church again, but I didn’t want what I’d had to end.

So in a way, I didn’t want to come home.

(“Is it even coming home at this point? Can I have two homes? Because this feels like home.”)

And now that I’m back, I feel like I’m stuck with half my heart on another continent and my head in the clouds dreaming of the future (“bigger and better” than my everyday?).

It feels like a betrayal to my homeland and my family and friends to say that I didn’t want to come home. It feels like mixed allegiances, like sitting on the middle of a rope in tug-of-war.

It wasn’t so much a culture shock either way, at least not in big ways. It’s not like I’m returning from spending the summer in Nicaragua or Uganda. But if you spend enough time living “normal life” in another culture, and loving people there, it starts to become home. And for good reason–it’d be hard to have much of an impact on yourself or others if you spent the whole time in another place comparing it to your home and trying not to get attached. “If you do this right, you’re going to go home different,” David Boyd told me. “You might not be able to put your finger on it, but you will be different and you will notice and others will notice.”

He was right. I noticed.

This is how I know this summer changed my life: I’ve come home and home is largely the same (though I’m positive my siblings each grew half a foot while I was gone, and they changed the hand dryers in the bathrooms at the mall), but the way I see it is different. 

I came home and I still remember how to get around, I still remember how to do 98% of things at work correctly, I can still “do” normal life…

But I see things differently.

Something about me has changed as a result of my time away this summer. I had the chance to step outside of my normal, and live a different kind of normal for a while. I guess living out of a suitcase and a backpack on another continent for five weeks gives you a mental, as well as physical, separation from all the stuff back home. The material stuff, the stress stuff, and everything that keeps you in the rut of routine. Everything that keeps you busy and keeps you running on autopilot. Being approximately 4,595 miles away from everything you’ve ever known gives you the chance to step back and see things “zoomed out”–see things from the perspective of the sky above, rather than down in the trenches.

As you may have noticed, this summer I have gained the perspective of eternity. And that changes things. When you catch a glimpse of eternity, when you witness how God is working in every corner of the world, when you are able to step away from all the things that cloud your focus…you reevaluate things. You make changes in your life. You have to, because now that you have seen, you can’t unsee. And the seeing compels you to action.

Because God is real and He is waiting in eternity for us, we realize this life is, comparatively, a lesser reality and very short. But rather than taking that to mean what we do here doesn’t matter, we recognize that it matters infinitely more than the weight we often give it. Simultaneously, the things of normal life matter so much less and yet so much more than we thought. The choices we make and how we spend our time matters, but we don’t have to get caught up in the petty cares and the ruts of everyday life.

*     *     *

I guess I was warned that coming home would be a challenge, but I had no idea what that would look like. I had no idea that the battle would be in going back to normal schedules and normal jobs, when I had tasted and seen a different life. I didn’t expect the struggle of contentment with where God has me in this stage of my life. Because the reality is, I can’t go back to stay. Not right now. And I know that. I know that, and it’s hard to accept. It’s hard to let those five weeks that I had be enough.

I know I am meant to be here now–in this church, with this living situation, going to this college (although I still find it hard to believe sometimes, I can’t deny that it’s His plan). So I know God has a purpose for me here. Where I am right now is exactly where He wants me to be, and He is the same God here as He was when I was away this summer. That means I can take this perspective of eternity and come home. That house with the twisty spiral staircase and the family with three boys who became like my little brothers can still be home. And I can come home a different person, missing people on the other side of a big, big ocean. But just as He was with me in the going, He is with me in the return.

After all, isn’t this what eternity is about? Coming home. Coming home to be with Him and His people, forever.

At the edge of eternity

At the edge of eternity.png

This past week in the Netherlands I was a guest member of the teen Bible camp run by the missionaries. It was a mentally and physically tiring week, but it was so worth it to get to be with these incredible teens and staff members.

Thursday night we ended with a campfire song and testimony service. It was a beautiful time of reflection together, and was also a sobering time as everyone considered the situations they would be walking back into the next day. But for one night more, these teens were surrounded by people who loved and supported them and encouraged them to walk closer with God. For one night more they were challenged to make their short lives here on earth count.

Friday morning after one last breakfast, everyone gathered together for the final quiet time. We finished Romans 13:

“…Knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.” (Romans 13:11-12)

Together we sang “Er is een dag” (there is a day) with hearts simultaneously rejoicing and longing for that day to come, when we will step into the other side of eternity and see His face. A day when there will be no more difficulties, no more loneliness, no more tears, no more pain. A day when we will be surrounded by the children of God worshiping Him together.

He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. (Revelation 22:20)

Soon we will see Him
And forever be like Him
And know Jesus as He is, amen!
No more tears, no more pain
Because we will live with Him
In His nearness, forever.
Amen, amen!

(translation is mine, so forgive any errors and approximations)

It was a beautiful week. It was not always what I expected, and it certainly wasn’t easy. Long days with constant Dutch tended to fry my brain as well as leave me physically tired. Sometimes Dutch would be a breeze, and other times I could barely put together a sentence, or someone would have to repeat a simple sentence three times before I could understand. It wasn’t immediately easy to interact with the teens or join their conversations–I had to go out of my way to start them. And understanding the instructions for the games was always a struggle. But what an outstanding week. I had the incredible opportunity to love these teens and staff and be a part of their lives for 7 special days, as well as to learn and grow, myself.

Thursday night as I was up late laughing with the teens and failing miserably at a card game for the tenth or so time, yet somehow managing Dutch quite well for 1 a.m., I realized that this was a place I felt like I belonged. They made me feel like I belonged. And I can’t even tell you how many people asked if I would come back next year or if I would move there. As I sat on the floor outside my cabin’s room processing the week I wrote these words…

I found my gal. I knew it was her when I first talked to her one-on-one earlier this week and she told me she was not so good with English. I knew she was the one I’d been praying for, the one I’d been expecting before this week even began.

And I held her in a hug tonight after the campfire service while tears slid down her face and she forced out barely intelligible words in Dutch. And when she was finished speaking, I was able to tell her in her own language, “You know what? I was learning Dutch before I even knew I would come here. And I stuck with it, even though almost everyone thought it was crazy. People told me ‘everyone there speaks English and no one anywhere else speaks Dutch, so learning that language is useless.’ And that made me a bit frustrated. You know what I told them? I said that if there was only one person who didn’t in fact speak English, it would be worth it to learn Dutch. I hadn’t met that person yet. I didn’t know if I would or not. But something made me keep learning anyway. And now I’m here. Now I’m here and maybe you were that person God had me learn Dutch for all along. Just so I could come all the way from Florida and speak in Dutch with you here and tell you how much Jesus loves you no matter what.”

“Heel mooi,” she breathed. “Voor mij? Echt?”

Yes, very beautiful.

This crazy kind of love, that God would choose to send His own Son for us. And that he would have a Florida girl learn a “small, unimportant” language for three years before sending her to a small camp in a small country to speak with a small girl.

It’s so…not huge and yet unbelievably wonderful at the same time. It wasn’t a dramatic conversion story. Just a girl who needed a hug and some comfort, and she wanted to hear it from me.

This is missions, I think. I think of Katie Davis in Africa. You can’t change the world for everyone, and in fact, not even for one person. God does that. But you can be there. And you can love them. And in “foreign missions”? You can learn to love their country, their language, their ways–you can learn to eat without using a napkin, and eat all kinds of stuff on bread. You can learn to speak your mind in a very frank and honest way. You can learn to be one of them. And you can love them. I think that is my greatest takeaway from this week–LOVE THEM with all that you have and are, in the best way you can, and in whatever opportunities God gives you. I can see that Daniel loves them so, so much. I’ve watched as he speaks and his heart breaks over them. I’ve listened as he prays and asks God to open their eyes and their hearts. And he enjoys being with them. He is there for them. And he speaks truth to them.

And this is THE mission.

How beautiful indeed. How very worth it all. Worth every speck and drop of life I have to give. Wherever I am. Whenever I am there. For the King who holds the whole world and yet also holds my redeemed heart. 


 

This is what it is like to catch a realization of eternity:

The long long long rope of which you can see only one end. A bit of tape on that visible end that represents life on earth. So much contained in eternity, and compared to that, life here is so…short.

This is what it is like to see a glimpse of eternity:

“Small” moments that are utterly life-changing. Moments you wish would go on forever in their simple existence. Singing softly around a campfire, grateful words spoken, tears dribbling on the dusty ground. Tissues passed around. Togetherness. Moments of silence. Love that is so real, so tangible, you feel you could reach out and grab hold of it.

This is what it is like to stand at the edge of eternity:

To realize that Jesus is coming and He is coming soon. To read with awe and wonder about the moment when He will take us up to be with Him, and to close your eyes to better envision the streets of gold and gates of gems. But most of all to savor the thought of one day seeing His face.

This is what it is like to live in the hope of eternity:

Knowing there will be a day…a day when the end of life as we know it shall come, and all the sorrow and the pain and devastation and striving of this life shall come to a close. To sing with joy and longing about the day we will see Him and know Him the way we were always meant to know Him. To rejoice in the parting, knowing we will see each other again in heaven, if nowhere else on this earth.

We walk. With certainty of knowing the Eternal One is with us every moment.

We sing. With the joy of this eternal hope.

We stand. With eyes gazing upward, fixed on the edge of eternity.

As he leads me

As he leads me.png

Life is busy, always so busy, that it seems if I want a moment to be still, I have to make one. I must hew my quietness, my solitude, out of the whirlwind of life. Sometimes this threatens my ability to function well, as it is so difficult to find the moments I need to slow down and rest. But as I think about it, the necessity of intention is not a bad thing. If I am going to get a moment like this, I have to choose it. I have to decide to leave space in my day and then fill it with what matters.

Following God is like the rhythm of a dance. He leads with a step, and I take a step to match it. At first my step is uncertain, half a beat behind. I don’t know what I’m doing, but I know I don’t want to mess it up, so I pour all my concentration into doing just that–not messing up. My nerves jitter in the pit of my stomach and I sweat anxiously, tensing up as I desperately try to keep up with the steps I can’t anticipate. In my determination to not mess up, I’m struggling and trying to force what is supposed to be a thing of beauty and relaxed proficiency. I’m stressing over something that is supposed to be enjoyable. And I’ve utterly forgotten–no, ignored–the one I’m dancing with.

But here’s the thing with dancing: tensing up and focusing so hard on what you are doing doesn’t help you catch up, and it certainly doesn’t allow you to enjoy yourself. The best way to move in a dance you don’t know with a partner who knows what they’re doing is to relax and follow their lead. Focus on them, not on your stumbling feet and awkward movements. Listen to the music and allow it to carry you along. Trust the one you know who knows what they are doing and meekly follow. And do not allow yourself to get flustered and stressed over the steps you miss or the fumbles you create. Just keep going.

God orchestrated the dance we call life. He knows all the steps, He could have His pick of partners, and yet He chose you. He wants to walk with you. He wants to spend that time with you. He wants to hold you and guide you through every step you cannot seem to get right on your own. And He wants you to focus on Him, not on what you are doing. He wants you to step closer, relax, and trust.

And yet, He will not drag you with Him onto the dance floor. He will come to find you, and ask you to take His hand and trust Him. But He will not force you to walk with Him. If you decline and say you want to handle things on your own, He will sadly nod farewell and leave you, as you wish. But He is never too far. He is watching as you struggle through the music alone, fighting for every step. And He stands ready to, at any moment, respond to your cry for help. In an instant He will be beside you with open arms. Until then, however, He waits for you to seek Him.

A necessary intention is not a bad thing. Intention is the choice that causes us to examine our own hearts to find what we really want. We are all given the same twenty-four hours in a day, and we must choose how to fill the hours and minutes as they fly by, slipping through our fingers like the wind that slices between the stalks of reeds on the shore. In every moment, we choose how we are going to live. We choose who we are going to serve with every action we take. When God created us, He gave us that precious capability of choice. He wants us to want Him. He gave us the liberty of choice because He wants us to love Him freely, only by our own choice to seek Him above all else that clamors for our heart.

This is why, in the midst of the chaos and the busyness of life, I have to choose to pause. I have to make the effort to be alone, to be still, to be quiet. And listen. He is near me every moment, but if I really want to hear Him, I must take extra effort to be still so that I can listen intently. Purposefully.

If I wait to feel like it, or wait until I just “find time,” I will never end up coming to Him. But if I want to know Him…if I want to be with Him…I must, out of love, make the choice to step onto the dance floor and then let Him lead. I will never be able to make life or my relationship with God work if I will not choose Him, or if, when I come, I am caught up with what my tripping feet are doing rather than what He is doing. I must practice first choosing Him, and then coming with a meek and open heart, willing for Him to lead me and change me.

If this feels rather like being a child (and it does), then I must be doing something right. After all, Jesus said if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven, we must become as little children (Matthew 18:3). God gives grace to the humble (James 4:6-8). And in the end, the meek will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).

It is not complicated to follow God. In fact, it is rather like the beauty of a dance. But this life, this walk with Him, requires of me that I come humbly. I must choose Him first, choose Him above all, and approach with open hands and an open heart, willing to relax and let Him lead me.


A beautiful Dutch hymn, “Hij Leidt Mij” (He leads me).

Speaking of Dutch, I’m leaving for my missions internship in the Netherlands in just seven days. Wow. If you haven’t already, be sure to like my Facebook page and sign up for my email updates!

Finish the race (2 Timothy study week 4)

finish-the-race

Welcome back to the blog Bible study! It’s hard to believe it’s been a month already. If you’re just now joining or you’d like a review…

Here’s a quick review of last week’s main points:

  1. Paul warns Timothy about the perilous times and ungodly individuals within the church he (and we!) will encounter.
  2. Paul urges Timothy to continue in what he has learned and to carry on in faithfulness.
  3. The Scriptures are inspired by God, and equip us to take action.

Today we’ll be going through 2 Timothy 4. Take a moment to read it before you continue.

Here are the main themes I gathered from this chapter.

1. In spite of all that is going wrong, preach the Word

This chapter begins by diving right into an application of chapter three’s closing point that Scripture is critically important. In light of the omniscient, omnipresent God, Paul charges Timothy to preach the Word. He urges Timothy to be instant (at hand, ready) both in season and out of season—when it is convenient and when it is not. Are you ready at all times? Are you available to serve others, even when it is inconvenient?

In verses 3 and 4, Paul once again describes the fate of some church members that Timothy would have to deal with in the very near future. “A time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine” (v.3), but would instead seek for themselves teachers who would tell them what they wanted to hear. Verse 4 says “they shall turn their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” Isn’t it funny that usually others call Christianity a fable? Yet here Paul turns that on its head and points to other teachings as the nonsense they are.

I find it interesting and encouraging how throughout this letter, Paul doesn’t shy away from the hard things that are going on in the world of the early church. Instead, he faces them head-on and tells Timothy, “They’re going to do this, but you focus on what you’re doing. You make sure you remain faithful, even when others do not.”

Here is his instruction from this chapter:

But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.

There are those afflictions again…and he combines watchfulness and perseverance through trials with active evangelism and this “making full proof” of Timothy’s ministry. The word translated into “make full proof” means to completely assure, to be fully persuaded, and to entirely accomplish. It gives the idea to finish what is started. This same word is used later in verse 17 as “fully known,” when Paul explains why the Lord delivered him (“…that by me the preaching might be fully known”).

2. Last words of a life well-lived

In verses 6-8, Paul gives his “last words,” of a sort.

For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness…

“Ready to be offered” means, based on the Greek word, to be poured out as a drink offering. And the word behind “departure” is laced with beautiful layers of meaning. The word is familiar to us, actually—analysis. How does analysis turn into departure? Well, think about what analysis is. It’s picking something apart into smaller pieces. This word means unloosing, dissolving ties with, and is used as a metaphor for loosing the moorings of a sailing vessel preparing to begin its journey. Paul is eloquently saying the time is at hand for him to dissolve his ties with earth and begin his journey into eternity. Wow.

He continues with a powerful statement of finishing well, which we have to aspire to. “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” And because he has done this, he will attain the crown of righteousness (becoming fully righteous in heaven) God has in store for all who follow Him until their deaths.

I absolutely love this passage. I love how Paul is in no way bragging, but he is confident in his position in Christ. He is ready to go home, but while he is on earth, he is making a point to encourage Timothy to carry on when he is left behind. He is saying:

I have fought a good fight – You fight it, too, Timothy. Preach the Word. Be ready at all times. Stand firm when everything around you is shaken.

I have finished my course – Timothy, finish the race. I know it will be hard, and you’ll feel like you’re alone. But don’t give up. With God’s strength, you can make it.

I have kept the faith – I’m entrusting you with the foundation of this faith, Timothy. Keep it close and help others do so as well. There is a crown of righteousness waiting.

3. People will hurt you, but God will deliver

In the remainder of the chapter, Paul describes a few people who are obviously mutual acquaintances. He mentions a couple who have abandoned him and deserted the faith, and tells Timothy where a few fellow workers are currently stationed. He asks Timothy to come visit him and bring a coat, Paul’s books, and the scriptures. It is Paul’s last days. He’s cold and lonely, and misses his friends. He is still strong in the faith, however. In verse 16, he asks God to forgive those who forsook him, much like Stephen and Jesus did.

In verse 17, he lays out a contrast: though “no man stood with [him]” (v.16), “the Lord stood with [him]” (v.17) and strengthened him. And why? Here’s the part I mentioned earlier.

That by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.

That “fully known” is the “entirely accomplished.” Paul is saying God delivered him because He wasn’t finished with Paul yet. Paul did what he did “that all the Gentiles might hear.” He boldly affirms that God will deliver him from “every evil work” (v.18) and preserve him unto God’s heavenly kingdom.

People are going to hurt you. That’s a fact of life, because people are fallible. People are infected with sin. But that doesn’t change God’s perfect plan and how you fit into it. If He’s not finished with you yet, He will continue to deliver you out of every circumstance that seems impossible or hurts like nothing you’ve ever been through before. When you think it can’t possibly ever get better, God still stands with you. He will preserve you until he takes you into His heavenly kingdom.

To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

I hope and pray this study has been a blessing to you as it has to me.

Let’s recap:

  1. A major theme of this book has been the fact that circumstances and situations are going to continue growing worse and worse, but we are still called to be faithful. Paul urges Timothy to preach God’s Word and entirely accomplish his ministry. What have you given up on that you need to bring to completion?
  2. Paul is ready to go home to be with God, but he still takes the time to encourage Timothy and challenge him to finish the race. Who are you challenging to finish the race of godliness?
  3. Being hurt by people is a part of life, but Paul didn’t let it stop him from preaching “that all the Gentiles might hear.” He knew God would deliver him. Are you trusting God’s perfect plan, or are you letting yourself be held back by hurts and fears?

Share your answers to these questions and what you learn from 2 Timothy 4 and any thoughts from this study overall in the comments below! Also, I’d love to hear what you thought of the blog Bible study. Would you like to see another one in the future? What can I improve or do differently?

I cannot do anything

I cannot do anything

Note: This is the first post I ever wrote for this blog, way back around September. But for some reason, every time I stumbled on it in the drafts folder, I felt like it wasn’t the right time to share it. Today, however, I was again reminded of the principle in this post, and so I’m sharing it with you. I hope it will be an encouragement to someone today.

***

It’s been over two years.

From the beginning, I knew I was getting into something huge, something complicated, something that would be difficult.

People always are.

But I also knew it would be worth it.

People always are.

There’s a saying, “The older I get, the more I realize I do not know anything.” And that has already proved to be true in my life. Because over the days and weeks, months and years, I have learned that much of what I thought I knew was actually wrong. It’s a difficult thing to understand people, sometimes. Every time I think I finally understand something, later something else comes to light and I realize I was wrong. I did not understand. And, inevitably, sometimes I wonder if I ever will.

It’s a complicated and messy and confusing and just plain hard thing to love people, sometimes. Especially those with life stories so different from my own.

When people trust me enough to talk about the beyond-surface level of their lives, I consider it a privilege. I try to understand them and where they’re coming from as best as I can. And I try to share truth with them as it relates to their situation. And I pray. I always, always pray. But sometimes…sometimes I feel helpless.

If you care about someone, naturally, you want to be able to make their life better and fix their problems.

But that’s not the way it works.

It took me a long time to learn that. To learn that it’s not my job to fix things, to always have the perfect word of advice, or anything like that. It took until a moment of understanding, a moment where things finally “clicked” and I understood why things were the way they were with someone, and a moment of cold, hard realization–I cannot do anything about this.

I think as humans, our reaction to things that we see as problems is to fix them. To figure out what’s wrong and what happened and how to make things the way we think they should be.  It’s kind of an instinct. And that’s not always bad. In fact, sometimes it’s a very good thing. If someone never wanted to fix problems in life, I would be very worried about them, because they must have a serious case of apathy.

But sometimes, this intense desire to fix things can be just another way we try to control our lives and the lives of those around us. We forget so often that we are not in control, don’t we? We forget that God is in control.

“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” – Proverbs 16:9

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28

“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” – Colossians 1:17

“Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.” – Psalm 147:5

“The LORD works out everything to its proper end.” – Proverbs 16:4a

We can make all the plans we want. We can desperately brainstorm and try to come up with a solution. But God is the one who knows exactly what’s going on and has a plan for it.

When we come to the realization that we are not in control–that we cannot do anything–we are finally ready to let God work. How did that night go for me? I realized the only thing I could do was pray and continue to love. But then the other thing that hit me was, “that’s all I’ve ever been able to do.”

Nothing had changed about the situation. The only thing that had changed was my understanding of it.

Jesus didn’t command “love your neighbor and.” There was no and. No “love your neighbor and…fix all their problems.” No “love your neighbor and…be sure you always have something to say about their life situation.” No “love your neighbor and…it’s your fault if they don’t become a Christian.”

There simply is no and.

All we are commanded to do is love.

Do you see how freeing this is? It means it doesn’t matter if we don’t know what to say. It doesn’t matter if we spend months or a year or two years or ten years or our whole lives loving someone who’s lost only to die without seeing them trust Christ. It doesn’t matter if we can’t see the results, as long as we are faithful to love.

All God asks of us is to love the people around us. We trust Him for the rest.

Loving people is still hard. It’s still confusing and uncertain and painful and patience-trying. But if we remember it’s not about us and what we can do, and leave the rest to God…it’s so much less complicated.

Have you ever had that moment before, where you looked at a situation in your life or someone else’s life and realized you just couldn’t do anything? Take heart, friend. Nothing changed. God is still God, and He is still in control. Trust Him.

What are some of God’s commandments you’ve recently seen in a new light? How do you think realizing we cannot do anything helps us to live freely?