Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Living Sacrifice

Just a brief thought...
For the past semester, I've been volunteering weekly at Daybreak with my dear friend Colleen. Each time we're there, we hang out with members, play some dominoes, participate in music time, and help out with cleanup in the kitchen some.
Today, our friend Kenia organized cultural food-age that was so delicious...with the help of her mom, dinner at Daybreak tonight was (literally translated from the Spanish) "Seasoned Chicken" with rice and it was sooo after helping to de-bone 4 chickens, I got to have fabulous food...
Anyway. As per usual, I did dishes in the kitchen tonight, working for about 40 minutes or an hour just cleaning everything that came my way. I happened to be wearing a camp t-shirt today, and by the end of the day it was soaked from the times when poorly-aimed dish water came out of a ladle or tray and back up at me. Let me tell was super glamorous. But in all seriousness, as I was standing there washing dish after dish after dish (and using my pro skilz at speeding dishes through the sanitizer and getting it done quickly), I had a thought:
To me, this is what it means to offer my body as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. It doesn't mean this awkward sort of honor-killing thing, where I get burnt on an altar and become a useless set of ashes. And it doesn't mean putting myself down, or in any way mistreating myself. What it does mean is that when I get dirty (or in this case, soaking wet with dishwater) while serving others (and therefore ultimately serving God), I don't mind. My personal comfort is not my primary concern, and the use of my body is not primarily selfish. I know that sounds kind of weird, but it takes me back to my days at DYA, when we followed a very strict dress code because "there's so many things you can do with your body that aren't sexual, like running and dancing and worshiping and serving and living in God's love, and so we want you to be freed to do all those things."
When I left Daybreak today, I was so completely filled. Not just literally (although the food was delicious), but my spirit was so filled with peace...something about just being so productive and helpful and serving and being a part of a bigger service and not worrying about myself...I left that little building in center city, in clothes smelling like any soup kitchen and slightly damp with dishwater, still congested from allergies, completely filled with peace that passed my understanding. I can't put my finger on it...but I was just so happy.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sine Waves of Mercy

This, my friends, is f(x)=sin(x)

If you are unfamiliar with what that means...well, it won't really matter, there are explanatory diagrams. But throwing that out there before I begin rambling my train of thought makes me happy, like seeing an old friend :) Hello there, sine wave!

Anyway. Back to what I was going to write about.

So as I believe I've mentioned before, I struggle with the idea of self-worth a great deal. In my conversations with Matthew last night, he framed it into the ideas of extrinsic self-worth (I'm valuable and appreciated for what I can do and accomplish) and intrinsic self-worth (I'm inherently valuable and loved as a child of God). We talked about how that intrinsic value is always constant (God will love me if I accomplish nothing, and God will love me if I accomplish tons), even though it's hard to remember that. On the other hand, extrinsic value is really tangible, obvious, and well-noticed (thank you, American culture), and so it's really easy to get caught up in, for better or for worse...on top of which, it is unstable - one day you're amazing, and the next day finds you staring at piles of dirty laundry, dirty dishes, and a mile-long to-do list.

With me so far?

Ok. So. Let intrinsic value be represented by the function f(x)=0, a constant, kind of like the love of God for his child. (Note that this is not a comment on how important it is, it's just easier since you can see the flat line in the x-axis [the horizantal one] above, and it makes the functions easier to write out.) Furthermore, let extrinsic value be represented by the function f(x)=sin(x), a sine wave, which rises and falls infinitely. If you're curious, the f(x)- or y-axis could probably be best understood as self-worth or personal value, and the functions are over time (x).

I have a tendency to ride the sine wave. When I'm doing great, I'm feeling great about who I am and what I have to offer the world, and I'm ready to fly off into the sky (tangent to the curve just before x=π/2). But then when something goes wrong, I feel wayyy inadequate, not good enough, and self-destructive inner dialogs occur. I say this in a blunt fashion only because I'm convinced I'm not the only know that my heart and soul are out here, being discussed.

Yet while I ride the sine wave, and continuously drive myself crazy with negative messages (get it?), there's this constant love, this value that is there no matter what. God's love for me is constant, unfailing, and will always always always remain that way. What a beautiful thing...

When something goes wrong, I forget to draw worth from God's unconditional love for me, and I begin to see myself as less than I was meant to be. When I'm riding a wave of success, I forget the constant love beneath me, because things seem to be going well. Maybe forgetting the basics of God's love was what Jesus was talking about in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector?

I'd like to be able to stay positive. I'd like to be able to ride the sine wave of success and worldly achievements when things are going well, and then come down to rest on the constant love of Christ when things aren't going so well. I don't have a way to graph that off the top of my head, but I think it would look a little like this:

This sounds like the best of both worlds. I get to be happy about my achievements, and then not be bummed out by my mistakes, because...drumroll please...God loves me anyway! Yay! Welcome to "Christianity Fixes Everything" World!

Heh...I hope you know me well enough to know that that's not I'm satisfied. If you'll direct your attention to the second image, you may notice that it wouldn't exactly make the most comfortable roller coaster ride. To my eye, it looks (actually) like a flight path for an excited fish, who jumps out of the water, dives out of sight, jumps out of the get the idea. It'd be really cool to live a life where I was so effortlessly in control of my emotions and perspectives and so on that I could do this, and not feel the bumps in transitioning from the downward slope to the horizontal path. Knowing myself, though, I find it far more likely that I would continue to drop below zero, and pretend that I depending on the constant. In retrospect, I've probably spent a large part of my life there.

Rather than riding the wave, I want to always stand on the shore of God's unfailing love, as the waters rise and fall around me. When I have a wave of success, let it splash over me...and I'll praise God for the blessing of water, of refreshment, of grace.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Follow You

Not too complicated of a post today, just the chorus of Chris Tomlin's "I Will Follow You" that I have decided I want to always be the core prayer of my heart:
Where You go, I'll go.
Where You stay, I'll stay.
When You move, I'll move;
I will follow You.
Who You love, I'll love.
How You serve, I'll serve.
If this life I lose,
I will follow you.
Reminds me of the Wesley Covenant Prayer that I first prayed at worship in the Duke Youth Academy. I wore a ring on my left hand fourth finger for 5 years after that, to remind me of its significance and importance:
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.
Kind of like how Ruth left her homeland and told Naomi, "Where you go, I'll go; your people will be my people." I want my life to be like that with Jesus. Ok, so not everything I do is going to succeed. But that's not a statement about my worth, because I am like a child, well loved, a child of God. God won't love me any less if I mess up, AND God won't love me more if I succeed at finishing my to-do list (as a hypothetical example). God just...loves me. Undeserved love. What could be more beautiful? And what better, safe, beautiful place to live in, than the loving will of my heavenly Father?

Who knows where it'll take me, but there's freedom in knowing that my home will always be where I am fully living into God's will, and that that place is not tied to a locale or religious tradition or habit or ritual or activity. Thinking about it makes me sort of get that feel of a "peace that passes understanding"...ah, God is good :)

Friday, January 14, 2011


"I wish I was more of a man, have you ever felt that way?
And if I had to tell you the truth, I'm afraid I'd have to say
that after all I've done and failed to do,
I feel like less than I was meant to be.

And what if I could fix myself? Maybe then I could be free.
And I could try to be somebody else who's much better off than me.
But I need to remember this, that it's when I'm at weakest I can clearly see..."

Last night at band as I listened to Adam sing these first two verses of "What Life Would Be Like" by Big Daddy Weave, they clicked in a way they hadn't before. For the past several months, I've struggled a lot with feeling inadequate, especially when I don't accomplish a certain number of things. And like the second verse talks about, a lot of times I try to get myself free of that feeling by fixing myself - you know, re-outlining my to-do list, re-framing my goals, re-organizing, and trying to...well, fix myself.

But here's the problem: that's exhausting.

I'm not lazy or unmotivated, I'm just starting to realize that if I try to fix myself, it's going to be a never-ending process, and then I'm going to start feeling like I'm not "getting better" fast enough, and beat myself up over that, because I feel inadequate...anybody seeing the vicious cycle rear up it's ugly head?

Yesterday afternoon, I moved back to my room on campus. This meant that I had to bring all my possessions in from the car...and I don't pack light, or very efficiently. So a few tote bags at a time, I made about a million trips in and out of the building bringing everything in. Call it cliché, but this giant pile of *stuff* sitting next to me is making me think about a luggage metaphor...

Ok, you know what metaphor I'm talking about. You know, we're all carrying around all these burdens, and Jesus will take them for us and give us His yoke to carry, His yoke is easy and His burden is light, trust in Jesus and your problems won't be so bad, blah blah blah. My two issues with that have always been (a) the luggage still exists, and aren't the contents semi-important if I've been carrying them around all this time? and (b) either this is too simple, or I don't have enough faith for it to make sense (which cycles back to the inadequacy thing).

When I move back in, I have to carry everything into the room, put it down, and then sort through it to unpack. I *use* anything in my bags until I unpack them, and I can't unpack them until I stop trying to carry them all at once.

I've got all these problems that I've been trying to fix on my own, and it's way too exhausting to continue that. But the whole "hand everything to Jesus and walk away free" doesn't really...make very much sense to me, theologically.

So here's the deal, Jesus: I'm setting everything down in my heart, so I don't have to carry it all anymore. I want to be able to hold Your hand and walk with You without thinking about all the other stuff I can't hang onto...I want to be free to go with you and do what you want me to do, no matter what it is - no hangups, no "but I can't, because so-and-so said...", just... "Ok, God. That sounds a little different, but it's worth a try, let's go for it!"

...Kinda like Mary responding to the angel Gabriel - I like to imagine the other things she wanted to say, but all she did was ask one question (" is this logistically going to work?") and then she trusted ("I am the Lord's servant...may your word to me be fulfilled.") Cool, huh?

Anyway. I know that this luggage is still going to be here, and I'm still going to run up against hangups. Let's be honest. So when that happens, Jesus, here's what I want to do: let's, You and me, unpack those bags together, one at a time, as we come upon them. Take things out one at a time and ask, "Is this based in love or fear?" and remember that "there is no fear in love, because perfect love drives out fear." Ask, "does this aid or hinder me from being fully who I am meant to be?" and only hang onto the things that help me.

I don't want to be weighted down until I work through everything. That's not good news. That's not what Jesus has in mind for me, and that's not what God's designed for me. I am free, free to dance around my room, free to write and be creative, free to sing, free to be whoever God wants me to be...! And that's *now* - now. Now. Now. How cool is that? :)

Makes me think of these lyrics from Third Day (gender adjusted here for me). When you read 'em, don't think "born again" as in hellfire and brimstone crazy people revival service in a tent...but think "I'm born again" as in "I have the chance to rediscover the world like a new baby does, without everything that's brought me down over the last (insert-your-age-here) years" - and this life you have now, this sort-of-broken, luggage-still-packed life? Putting the luggage down is only the beginning - you ain't seen nothing yet :)

"Today I found myself after searching all these years,
and the person I saw, she wasn't at all who I thought she'd be
Well, I was lost when You found me here, I was broken beyond repair.
And then You came along and You sang Your song over me.

It feels like I'm born again, it feels like I'm living for the very first time, for the very first time in my life.

Make a promise to me now, reassure my heart somehow
that the love that I feel is so much more real than anything.
I've a feeling in my soul and I pray that I'm not wrong,
that the life I have now, it is only the beginning..."