Category Archives: The Church

THIS Is Happening Right Now

I have found myself crying two times in the last 12 hours. And my weekend has consisted of nothing but family parties, time at the beach with my husband, eating good food, and painting my home. Perhaps, I am crying BECAUSE of these good things.

The first time tears brimmed was this morning in church, which I can understand as I thought about my barely tenable connection to brothers and sisters suffering unspeakable losses in Iraq right now. What did my four walls of safety and communion have in common with theirs? Just Jesus, and a prayer He is not far from them right now.

The second time I gave way to tears coursing in gentle waves was watching the end of Hotel Rwanda with my husband. I’ve seen it many times, he had not, and so we began watching the sober film about the 1994 Rwandan genocide a few weeks ago, and concluded it today. My husband looked over at me, crying, and tried to console me as I simply said, “It’s just, that it’s happening right now. This. THIS. Is happening right now.”

And I am angry and saddened and frustrated by my helplessness, my powerlessness, my lack of ability to move. Me, one of the world’s richest persons because I live in America, hold a master’s degree, and have a combined annual income of triple digits.

All of those factors should make me one of the most influential people and yet they are nothing, or they feel like nothing to stem the slaughter of northern Iraqi’s who claim Christ as Lord, or who belong to other faiths and simply will not convert to Islam.

I know many people are posting on Facebook, are changing profile pictures, are tweeting, I among them. And yet, I also know that fleeing, suffering Iraqi’s are asking, “Where is our help?” Do they see us trying to raise awareness? Do they know, that if we could, we would call down more than just meager airstrikes ourselves? We would pick them up, carry them into our homes, lay them down in a bed, and whisper, “You are safe now” until kingdom come?

I fear they do not know. I fear they think we have abandoned them, forgotten about them, considered them someone else’s problem, or worse yet, never heard about them at all. I fear it’s Rwanda all over again and only after it’s over will people read of it, will they travel like I did to the memorial sites, indignant and righteously angry that such senseless atrocities ever occurred. I fear they will become REAL to us one day, when we hear their survivor stories ,or visit their graves or watch a Hollywoodized movie. And then, it will be too late.

And I can’t have that on my conscious. I’ve been to Rwanda. I’ve seen the walls where babies’ heads were shattered like clay pots on bricks. I’ve befriended a boy who hid in bushes at the age of 5, watched his family get chopped down, and lived to tell. I’ve read the stories; I’ve heard the politics behind labeling something a “genocide” and I’ve met the people to whom that term applied. I was 11 when the Rwandan genocide occurred. I am 30 now. Youth and helplessness may have been my excuse then, but by God, it will NOT be my excuse now. Not ever.

And so, I will pray down heaven’s armies, and I will teach American school children that there are children their age whose heads are on spikes in a park because they remained true to what they believe. And I will write, and I will find ways to give, and I may come at the end and still wonder if people in Iraq knew I loved them. But, I will get to heaven, and I will see them, and we will worship our Savior together, and I will not wish I had spent my time differently on earth. I will not waste my helplessness on them.

Here, Lord, have my Pinterest project

This is NOT the blog I intended on writing today, or the blog I intended upon writing this past week.

But, God interrupted my life today, and I can’t say no.

In fact, that was the whole point of today. Being a missionary is being someone who lets God interrupt your life. And I want to be a missionary.

Oh, not your classic outdated jumper-wearing, braided-hair, frumpy missionary wife in need of a pedicure, or the iconic Victorian era outpost with the white folk who went out to “save the natives from uncivilized behavior,” carrying with them equal portions of the white man’s burden and their larger than life Bible.

I want to be on mission with God. I want to be an active part of building His Kingdom. I don’t want to come to the end of my days and find that what I show up to the pearly white gates with is a really neat Pinterest project worthy of a DIY blog, or some really rock hard abs from my days as a gym rat or Crossfit chick.

So, allow me to explain what I mean. Today was just a whole heaping, steaming, helping of conviction. It started with me realizing what a crappy wife I am. I didn’t want to go the “Go Conference” my church was holding today from 9am til 1pm for a variety of reasons. Number one being my semi-arrogant assumption that it would be a bunch of “Misisons” information I’ve heard before in my trainings for my many previous “missions trips.” I also wanted to sleep in, spread a blanket out in the back yard, and enjoy some sun for a few hours on my Saturday. I wanted no agenda but mine. I think you see where this is going.

My sweet, godly husband, who most times only asks to do things because he perceives, and knows, they will benefit us, REALLY, really wanted to attend this conference. God has been increasingly growing his heart for the nations, and I, like an idiot, was poo-pooing this. I, who ironically, for many, many years prayed and beseeched the Lord for a man with a heart for missions was discouraging my brand-new, fresh out of the oven husband, from leading our family into doing something that would enable us to engage in undertakings much larger than ourselves. Being a part of God’s story, not just our own, is something we prayed for at our wedding, something so many people prayed for for me faithfully for a long, LONG time. Shame on me.

I got to church, we got to church, because the Holy Spirit was convicting me of my selfishness, even though I was still battling my cheerfulness at being up and at it by 7:30 on a Saturday morning. Instantly, the convictions rose higher and higher, like the description in the super trendy “Oceans” song by Hillsong right now. I almost cried, tears welled up at how good God is to me for giving me a man who leads me into days that are just what my heart needs, and how utterly gallingly human I am for almost dismissing and discarding them, and him. I leaned over, whispered to him, and apologized deeply.

And then I leaned into the rest of today’s message, and it was just what I needed. The statistics on the number of people who need Jesus, shoot, who just need to have a word in their own tongue for God Himself, are staggering. I’d heard them before, and the many biblical reasons why “Missions” is THE pivotal role of the Church, but today things rang clearer than they have for awhile, and today, my desire was renewed to be on “Mission.”

Today, I came face to face with the opportunity to begin seeking out relationships with the many nations who live right here in my hometown and attend our local universities. It would take merely a few hours out of my week to spend time building a friendship with some of these folks, helping them with their language acquisition, and providing them with places to go for the holidays, or when they just need a friend. The reality that so many international students arrive to America every year and do not ever get invited into American homes is sobering, challenging, and downright heart-breaking.

So, of course, in light of this great need, here’s where my mind goes:

“But, uh, what about the time I spend at the gym. I don’t want to get chubby or flabby.”

“And what about all the house projects we have going. I just need some time to establish our home.”

“And what about the fact that I already feel like I don’t have any extra time and we don’t even have kids yet, just two retrievers.”

Ahem, interruption.

That’s what it means to live a life for the Kingdom, for others, for the glory of His name. Because here’s the thing. Am I really going to show up, at the end of my days, and be satisfied to present to Jesus some super nifty craft I made with letters and decoupage? Or, flex my biceps and impress Jesus with my incredibly ripped body? Hey, Lord, yeah, so while I was doing my time down there, these things were pretty important. And then He points to me and asks, “Where are they now?” [Those things that rust and fade, or sag and age?] And meanwhile, he steps aside, and as the nations walk past me, He asks, “Where were you when they…[needed a meal, a friend, the Gospel]?

Am I really going to have the audacity to present that those “accomplishments” to my Lord? No, I am not. I am sometimes foolhardy, and stubborn, and selfish, but I just can’t be that disobedient. I can’t be that unwilling to be interrupted.

So, here, Lord, have my Pinterest project, and my body, and my time, and my money too. It is yours. Interrupt me, please.

Tulips, Popes, and Ex Boyfriends

If I’m anything like the rest of us, sometimes I just sit back and think, “Life is funny,” and I smile. Sometimes the smile is sardonic, other times amused, still other times wry and bitter, and yet other times, rather pleased and expectant.

This morning, and many mornings as of late, it may be a mixture of all the above. Let me walk you through the last 10 years of my ecumenical, or not so ecumenical church experiences, and maybe you can understand.

College: We’ll start here, because as we all know, college is the birthing room for “finding yourself.” What I found were tulips, lots and lots and lots of tulips. The Puritan kind, not the floral kind. I grew up in a pretty reformed version of the Evangelical Free denomination, and by the time I was 19, was fairly certain I’d hammered out all the theological intricacies of predestination and Providence. Between Luther, Calvin, Sproul, and Piper, what more did I need to ascertain about simple things such as single and double predestination and God’s chosen people? I spent hours and hours reading books, holding heated arguments at Denny’s with my Arminian friends (whose salvation of course I questioned), wrote papers for classes, stayed up late holding Socratic conversations with my youth pastor and his wife, and had even come so far as to be willing to tattoo a tulip on some part of my body. This latter part was not because the tulip is my favorite flower (although, ironically, it is). I was more in love with a 5 part acronymical system that enabled me to understand God in human terms. That brought comfort to an otherwise pretty troubling worldview.

Post-college: We’ll call this the mid-twenties, and the early years of my teaching career/grad school. I started traveling overseas. Missions work most definitely interrupted some of my preconceived notions of worship, ecclesiology, doctrine, the Gospel, and soteriology. People in Africa just don’t always articulate the Gospel in the 5 part way I’d come to understand it. And sometimes, they worshipped in the Catholic Church. Oh man, what was I supposed to do with that?

And then, to make matters even more complicated here in America, I started attending Sandals Church,a place where tattoo plastered folks with a whole mess of problems talked openly from the stage about sex and drug addictions. The preaching wasn’t always purely exegetical, and music happened with the lights dimmed, drums, and no piano. Woah. Talk about being thrown for a few church loops.

Suddenly,  people started telling me I should read books by Brennan Manning and St. Theresa of Avila and Donald Miller and other (probably) non-Calvinists. Um, I only read Piper and Edwards and Elizabeth Eliot. And then the real problem came, I started to like this other stuff. I learned from it. My mind got blown and grew and was challenged, and I started to question.  Heaven forbid, I started to question that Tulip I once wanted inked onto my skin for all eternity. Somewhere in all this I attended a few Protestant liturgical services, and was super uncomfortable about them, but intrigued nonetheless. I started practicing Lent a few times, and found it to be a fairly normal spiritual discipline sort of exercise/celebration. Easter meant more those years, as did the first Starbucks after 40 days of denial.

Post-post college: We’ll call these the late twenties, or perhaps more appropriately, the last year. I did the unthinkable for a little Reformed girl. I dated a Catholic boy. No, guys, a real Catholic boy. Not the nominal,  I’m Hispanic or Italian, and therefore Catholic, kind. And through our late night conversations, and our debates, and our going to Mass together a few times, I came to really appreciate Catholicism. I stayed up late researching articles on how Catholics and Protestants can make it work in marriage (one had to think about these sorts of things), I asked friends and family working on seminary degrees how the heck to make sense of our differing sides of the Council of Trent, and I started to get angry when my hyper-Protestant friends questioned his salvation. Really angry.

We’ll make a long story short here. We didn’t work out, but I think we both learned a ton from each other, and God used this sweet guy in my life to teach me some pretty invaluable lessons about Himself, the Church, the Trinity, and Jesus. It became pretty clear to me pretty early on that while we may have some differences on the doctrines of justification and the practice of the Eucharist, this guy knew Jesus. He served people like Jesus serves them, and He wanted the same for me.

And so, while I didn’t end up converting to Catholicism and marrying my Papist as I had begun to think I would, Jesus grew in me this sweet, sweet love for His Church everywhere: the Catholics in Rwanda, the Protestants in the Presbyterian church in San Bernadino, my kids going to Mass in Riverside, my fellow community group members at Sandals, and a new special friend attending the local cross-town rival, Harvest. I started seeing and celebrating all the similarities instead of the differences, and I added an especial fondness for liturgy to my expanding understanding of worship. In fact, at Christmas, of my own accord, I attended a local midnight mass, and loved it, even without homeboy by my side to explain everything.

I fell in love with the Nicene Creed all over again. No Protestant or Catholic owns the market for that. It’s just this beautiful, old, doctrine of what Christians believe. I began to appreciate crying babies in the middle of a church service because I had this growing appreciation for the rich age and legacy of the Church. I doubt Sunday school existed in provincial parishes in 13th century Spain.

The traditionalist and the literary nerd in me marveled at the symbolism of so many elements of Mass. The Protestants miss them, sorry guys. I love the sacred space that gets created in the solemnity and the antiquity of Mass. I love the majestic grandeur of old (and new cathedrals) that remind you the God you worship is magnanimous, lofty, vast, beautiful, and yet approachable, intimate like a corner nave and pure and clear as a baptismal font.

I found myself super interested in the selection of the new Pope Francis this week, and actually cared whether or not a good Father was picked for that branch of the Church. From what I can tell, he seems like the kind of man I could follow as a church leader.

All that to say, it’s been a journey, like most things. And, the journey, like most good things, involved a fair amount of discomfort, and for sure pain. But, I’m thankful that now I can sit back, in far more places than I ever used to, and worship Jesus. I’ve found that He can be found just about anywhere, in pews or kneeling benches, or plastic chairs. And I’ve learned that there is far greater pleasure in not being able to understand all the ways He works, than in simply praising Him with others who may understand Him a bit differently.

I’m a little bit astounded by the steep learning curve this last year produced, and all the 180 degree turns I’ve seen my own theology take in the last decade. But, to be quite frank, that just makes me more excited. I’d much rather a view of God that continues to grow ever more expansive and complex, than one that narrows and limits in its ironically human simplicity.

And so with the thousands upon thousands who have gone before and who will come after, and with whom I will sing around the throne, my heart thrills to say:

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen