Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Life: A Metaphor

"How is a raven like a writing desk?" 
-Alice in Wonderland

I've lived in the desert of Phoenix for about 20 years, but it hasn't been until recently that I have developed an appreciation for the scenery. The mountains, cacti, and dust-covered-everything have not changed so much, but as I change over the years, so does my outlook. 

The brown that settles everywhere is no longer boring and old, but subtle and inviting. The things that look so much like death, the dry still cactus and arid mountain, now hold beautiful possibility for life and rejuvenation.

I love hiking, mostly because hiking is a metaphor for life, and I happen to love both metaphors and life. There are metaphors everywhere that can help us understand life and how to live it. 

My hike is always a journey, one I start, continue, and finish with intentionality, remembering along the way that my goal is to end stronger than I started, and to enjoy the journey. 
I have learned a few things while hiking.

I look up at the mountain, its grandeur leaning over me like an unconquerable giant. But I know I cannot jump to the top. I must start with a single step, and continue looking at what is directly in front of me on my path. A simple distraction on the side of the path is enough to take my attention off the giant boulder that is directly in front of me, and I will land flat on my face. 

I cannot continue to move forward while looking behind. I look behind for a quick glance, to analyze where I've been, but I don't dwell. 

Sometimes I find I must also stop to look ahead to see where the path leads. But I can't let my gaze linger too far ahead because I will lose focus on the path directly under my feet, ignoring the immediate dangers and obstacles that I must avoid.

I am compelled often to completely stop, plant my feet on the dusty ground, and take in the beauty of where I am: breathe, say a prayer, be still in a quiet moment of gratitude. Then I continue forward with that refreshing memory clear in my mind.

Sometimes I have companions on this journey. Sometimes we enjoy the journey together; sometimes I carry their fatigued bodies until they have the strength to walk by my side again. 
Sometimes I have to ask my companions to slow down, wait for me while I struggle behind. Sometimes I have to yell a warning to my companions behind me--there may be danger, a snake, fallen cactus--reminding them to be cautious. And sometimes my companions have to yell up to me, as I have raced ahead onto a trail we were not intended to take, and they have to remind me that I have wandered off the right path. 

And then when I've made it to the summit, I look at where I've come from, the long winding road that has led me here, to this point above the city, beyond the issues of life, just me and God and His creation. No wonder spiritual highs are called "mountain top experiences." I know there will be valleys to come; the path will get rocky once again, but I must remember to enjoy each step of the journey, to be strong for my companions and lean on them when I cannot be, and that another summit is on its way. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

How Have You Spent Your Life?

Death does interesting things to a person.

I met Steve Malakowsky at 8th Day Coffee and Culture, where I had been with my friend Bekah to watch her friend perform a beautiful acoustic set. After the show, I met Steve and we talked about intentional communities and his heart for the marginalized and oppressed. He gave me some places to start looking for connections and mentors. We talked again at First Friday, where he gave me a few minutes on the mic for spoken word.

I wanted to be a part of what he had started, a movement of art for freedom, dignity, and hope for all people. I wanted to follow in his footsteps, see what he did, talk with him and listen to his wisdom.

Today, Steve died suddenly of a heart attack.

Our time here can be taken at any moment. There is no time to spend hating, in bitterness, anger, or unforgiveness.  There is no time to spend in meaninglessness, chasing after dust, after things we can’t take with us.

Each moment we have an option: to live intentionally in that moment as if it were the last moment of our lives, or to let it pass as a breeze we pay no attention to because we are too distracted.

There are moments where I would be grateful God decided that was the time to bring me home. When I am in prayer, when I am serving someone, when my heart is fully turned to Him, when I praising Him in my words and actions, when I am loving people.

Other moments I don’t live so intentionally. I hurt someone (intentionally or unintentionally—the pain is the same); I harbor anger, jealousy, or unforgiveness in my heart toward my fellow human being; I numb myself with movies, television, social media; I am selfish, looking out for me, doing what I want to do without considering others as better than myself. I pray that in those moments, God will have mercy on me and give me another moment to repent, to ask forgiveness from Him and my neighbor who I have wronged, to be reborn again and again and again into every moment, living the next moment more intentionally, with more love, more passion than the last.

There is no time for apathy or selfishness.

We are all dust. Greg Boyd said it well: “All this world with all of its glories is going to pass away. It’s just dust, animated dust. That’s all it is. Well, live like it’s dust now and you’re a free person. It’s dust! Nothing more than dust. Now you’re free. That’s what it is to live a simple life.”

I also think of the beauty of leaving this world knowing you are loved and cared for, surrounded by people whose lives you have impacted, who have loved you and walked with you on your journey.

Then I think of my friend Ben in Kenya who walks through the slums searching for people dying in silence, alone, abandoned by everyone but God. Sometimes he finds them before they have died and he does everything he can to help them, get them the medicine they need, the touch they need, the love they need. Sometimes he arrives too late, perhaps knowing there has been a death only because the area begins to smell like decay. An emaciated woman lying in feces, her children crying at her side, helpless, defenseless. This is every day for him.  

I can’t describe my heart. Shattered, heavy, too heavy.

“God I am useless! I am helpless. I can do nothing. They will continue to die nameless, faceless, unknown, unloved.”

But He says, “Love the people around you. Love them with all your heart. Seek their good. You are not useless. You can love those around you who also feel unloved, unwanted, uncared for. Start here. Start now.”

Start here.
Start now.
Live each moment intentionally.

In every moment, if you were to die that moment, would you be satisfied with how you had spent the time given to you on this earth?

Would you have wished you had forgiven that person? Asked forgiveness? Loved a little better? Let go a little easier?

We cannot waste this life. It’s the only one we get.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Blog Without An Appropriate Title

When I came back from my six month spiritual journey in Kolkata, India three months ago, I wanted to get a job, travel the United States visiting intentional Christian communities, and visit my extended family in Michigan.

God had other plans, plans I did not necessarily agree were the best way of living out a life in Christ. But He's God, so I figured He knew better.

I felt God telling me to not get a job, not use my car, and keep my schedule open and available for anyone who may need some help. Psh. God, you so crazy. But I did it. I stayed at my kitchen table, studying, digging in to the Word of God, into the cultural and historical context of Biblical books, and really focusing on being conformed to the image Christ, waiting, always waiting, for God to open the doors He wanted me to walk through.

Doors of opportunity began opening, doors that would otherwise be closed if I had a job or if I were traveling across the country.

For the last month and a half I have been able to serve my brother (I live with my three younger siblings) by being his accountability workout partner and making his five meals every day. Every day. This has resulted in conversations we have never been able to have before.

I have been available to babysit for people I've never met because they had an emergency.

I have spent the last three days with my friend, helping her with her four week old baby and her two nephews who she has been taking care of.

I was able to lend my car to friends because one of their cars was stolen. I have been given back the car now and feel it is God's timing because just now I need a vehicle to get to the Justice Conference and other meetings that no one else is available to take me to. I'm not sure what God's plans are for the car, but I'm keeping the options open.

Last night, I was able to host A Night In Chains where friends were able to come over and pray for persecuted Christians around the world and write letters to our spiritual Brothers and Sisters who are imprisoned for their faith.

Scattered throughout that time I have been available to meet with and encourage friends going through rough patches, meet new friends and connections who are also interested in intentional Christian community, and have my faith and my view of God stretched, challenging my worldview and how God's Spirit works.

There are a lot of 'I's up there, but it's not me who has been able to do these things, but the power of God's Spirit working through me, opening the doors and my eyes to see the needs directly in front of me, to love those right in front of me, to serve those around me, to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

I do not feel like I am supposed to get a "job" but that my new job is to love and serve, to be available for anyone anytime, and to build up community around me.

Needless to say, serving and loving doesn't pay the bills. But I just had this weird conversation with God and He said He's going to provide for me. An image of my friend with her four week old baby came to my mind. She meets all her baby's needs, not because the baby has done anything deserving or has worked up to it or is doing everything her mother wants. She meets her baby's needs because she loves her with a passionate, unending, devoted love. God brought me that image to show me that I am not working for His providence. I am living the life I am living simply because I love Him. He will provide for me simply because He loves me.

His providence comes in all sorts of ways, through random donations, tax refunds, my siblings buying my food, friends giving me money for babysitting or odd jobs (without me asking or even hinting about money because I will totally do all that for free).

Today I got a bill in the mail for car insurance, a phone bill, and a medical bill.  I looked at them all and said, "Ok God, what do you want me to do about this?" Sometimes I feel He tells me to keep praying about it, other times He says to tell people. So, I want to put the need out there to you all.

If you feel this life is something you want to be a part of, something you want to support, and you believe in the life of love and service God has called me to, I want to ask you to partner with me, help me to live this life to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

I don't have a timeline. I don't know how long the need will last. It could be a few months, it could be years. But I do feel the life of service and intentional community my heart is burdened for is going to take significant time.

Here are some suggestions:

You can donate monthly be providing for one of the many things I feel God is telling me to maintain.
- Phone: $30 month
- Car insurance: $60 month
- Gas for car: Estimated $75 (depending on gas prices and how often I actually have to drive)
- Rent on the house I share with my siblings: $400

You can also just pray about how you feel led to be part of this and then give what you feel led to give or however God leads you to participate.

Many people reading this may be thinking, "Who does this girl thinks she is, asking us for money when she is perfectly capable of getting a job and supporting herself?"

And yes, I am perfectly physically and mentally capable of holding a job. But sometimes God asks us to do crazy things that seem backwards to the world so He can get all the glory. I cannot do any of this myself without a job. God HAS to provide, and therefore the glory and the praise goes ALL to Him.  He brings me low, makes me weak, so He can be shown strong and wonderful and beautiful, the God He is. This is not something I would have EVER planned for my own life, and sometimes I'm itching to get a job and support myself, but He keeps me where I am, low and incapable of providing for myself so I become totally dependent on Him and His Body of believers who He has raised up for purposes such as this.

If you do not feel led to partner with me, to support me in this lifestyle, please don't.
If you do feel led, please do.
If you feel led to pray, please pray. I need that desperately, for people to pray that I do not become distracted by the world or my own desires, but that I keep my eyes and heart wrapped up in God's dream and His heart.

I am just a person, so there isn't any 501c3 or tax deductions, but there is the body of Christ and there is the blessing of giving and serving. If you would like to mail a check, here's my address: 4401 W. Wahalla Ln. Glendale, AZ 85308

Thanks for listening to my craziness. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Holy and Profane

...to live is Christ...
Philippians 1:21

This is all so much bigger than I have been lead to believe. 

It's ok to not have answers--and sometimes it's better not to. 
It's ok to not have all the boxes checked. 
It's ok to be bewildered by the Spirit of God and the unconventional, strange ways He works. 
It's ok. 

I want yes or no, right or wrong, up or down, this or that. 
Most Americans do. 

But I'm learning to live in the tensions between holy and profane, clean and unclean, what I know and what I don't (and perhaps never will). 

I'm learning to breathe before I give my "correct" answer, deciding instead that maybe asking more questions and discovering answers together may be more beneficial. 

I'm learning to savor seconds, mindful moments meditating before starting the day, taking a bite of my provided daily bread, leaning back in my chair watching grey clouds cover the sky, knowing this moment, and every moment, could be my last moment. 

I'm learning God is bigger than my preconceived notions, 
bigger than the limits I put on His Spirit, 
bigger than who the Western Church has portrayed Him to be, 
bigger than the terrible evils committed in His name,
bigger than my every day worries.

He is bigger, more comprehensive, more radical, and more mind blowing than I will ever understand. 
And I am ok with not understanding Him,
but I see His beauty,
and I do want to follow Him. 

I used to pray, "Lord, lead me to Your truth. Help me understand You."

Now I pray, "Lord, I will never fully understand You and Your greatness. And truth is not a destination. So, fill me with Your fullness and let me walk in love, compassion, understanding, and truth."

God and truth are not a destination, but a journey. 
We do not arrive; we are. 

"The Kingdom of God is in the present moment...When I walk I don't hurry to arrive. Why? Because I arrive every moment. I have already arrived." 

I have arrived, I am home
In the here and in the now.
I am solid, I am free,
In the ultimate I dwell.

-Thich Nhat Hanh You Are Here

During my half year stay in Kolkata, India, I saw the sacred and the profane collide. Trash littered temple steps, walls used as public bathrooms next to sacred shrines,  dirty families sleeping outside cathedrals. 

Yet, I watched men brush away the trash and lay down their mats to pray. 
I watched women ignore the stench to touch the sacred statues then bring their hands to their own faces, covering themselves in spirit. 
I watched families take off their shoes before entering cathedrals, knowing the ground on which they walk is holy. 

They lived in the tension between humanity and Spirit, between profane and holy, because to many of them, they are one and the same. 

Our human bodies are holy: are we not the temple of the very Spirit of God? 
The ground we walk on is holy: has it not also been groaning for redemption?

The lives we live are holy--

the choice then becomes: 
Do you live in that reality, regarding all life as holy and sacred, treating each moment, each breath, each person, as holy and filled with sparks of the Divine? 
Or, do you ignore our sacredness and holiness to live solely in the profane, treating nature, people, all life as devoid of Spirit, empty of Divinity? 

Because the way you choose to believe determines the way you will live. 


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Present Moment, Wonderful Moment

My books have been sitting on the table in nice, neat stacks lately as I spend time loving friends and family. 

Cleaning the house for my brother's Super Bowl party, spending the day at doctor's appointments and grocery shopping with my friend and her two week old baby, sharing my testimony with friends, worshiping through poetry and art at coffee houses, stretching my assumptions about God through discussion groups at a new church, meeting new people with the same passion for God and people. 

It has been a full week, for sure. 

I am reading a few books by Thich Nhat Hanh: You Are Here, Present Moment Wonderful Moment, and Living Buddha Living Christ. Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King Jr., Nhat Hanh has been a Buddhist teacher and advocate for peace and reconciliation.  He also has a lot of beautiful things to say about Jesus and the Holy Spirit: 

"We do not have to die to arrive at the gates of Heaven. In fact, we have to be truly alive. The practice is to touch life deeply so that the Kingdom of God becomes a reality...We read in the Lord's Prayer that we do not go to the Kingdom of God, but the Kingdom of God comes to us: 'Thy Kingdom come...'"  - From Living Buddha, Living Christ 

Each morning for the past few days I have woken up a half hour earlier than normal to meditate, grounding myself in the present moment, opening myself to the work of God's Spirit, sitting in His quiet Presence, not expecting, just being. It can be difficult, rolling out of bed onto the blanket on my floor, sitting straight up and trying to not fall asleep or let my mind wander into the to-do lists of the day. But I know those moments are centering my day on God as I invite His Spirit to use me for His purposes. 

Two beautiful morning meditations I love reciting by Nhat Hanh: 

Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment, 
I know this is a wonderful moment

The Spirit is bringing morning light.
Sitting still, my heart is at peace.
I smile. 
This is a new day.
I vow to go through it in awareness.
The sun of wisdom will shine everywhere. 

Notice how there's a lot of smiling going on in those verses! Something happens when I remind myself to smile in my sleepy, quiet morning delirium. My expression changes, my mood changes, and I am reminded that this moment is truly the only moment I am promised, so I should smile in it. 

Speaking of love, for those of you who have been following my updates about going to Chicago through Mission Year, I wanted to let you know that Mission Year is doing a Love Drive during the month of February where they are giving away "Love God Love People" shirts for donations of $50 or more.  If you would like to grab a shirt and donate to my Mission Year fund, I would greatly appreciate it. God uses His people to bless each other and the world. You can find the donation page here: 

And if you would like to sign up to receive my newsletters, updating you about what is happening with Mission Year and my other Spirit adventures, please sign up below!