My “Romance & Adventure” list

Blessed-is-SheSometimes I have a hard time holding onto hope. Sometimes I have a hard time believing any of my dreams in life will come true. My valley, and my pain, have lasted so long, that it’s far too easy to believe the negative whispers in my soul, telling me nothing will ever get better. But I’m trying to fight that. I’m trying to see through different lenses. Years ago I felt God gave me the verses that inspired this blog, as a personal promise that one day my Valley of Achor–or trouble–would end in a door of hope. And that promise kept me going through a time of intense darkness and pain. But as the pain has lingered in recent years, and I’ve met with more disappointment and setbacks in my life, I’ve found it more and more difficult to hang on to that promise. Doubts, fears and at times despair have ransacked my soul, telling me my life will never have any sort of redemptive ending or satisfying purpose.

But I’m trying to fight back. Even though sadness, disappointment and disillusionment still lurk in the shadows, I’ve got to believe that better days are somewhere around the bend. So I’m posting the beautifully written Bible verse above (courtesy of blogger Morgan Day Cecil) to remind myself of the faith I once had. I’ve also been inspired by the aforementioned blogger (whose blog can be found here), to post a “Romance & Adventure” list–which is essentially a “bucket” list.

I’ve had a mental bucket list for a while, but perhaps just having it written down will help keep me motivated to never give up pursuing and believing in my dreams, even when the darkness, sadness and pain seem to mock those dreams.

So without further ado, here is my “bucket” list–or my “life’s goals” list–or “romance & adventure” list–in no particular order:

  • Be made whole: emotionally, spiritually and physically.
  • Use my pain to minister to others.
  • Get married to an amazing man and travel around Europe together on our honeymoon.
  • Serve God alongside this amazing man.
  • Visit Israel.
  • Visit beautiful, bonnie Scotland at least one more time.
  • Live in Brazil or somewhere in South America.
  • Speak at least two foreign languages fluently.
  • Learn Biblical Hebrew.
  • Get my B.A. and become a linguist (working on that!).
  • Give a people group their own written language and/or Bible.
  • Know Jesus better and become more like Him.
  • Bring at least one person to Jesus.
  • Be the hands and feet of Jesus to the least, the lost, and the broken.
  • Write and publish a book.
  • Sail in a hot-air balloon.
  • Go hang-gliding.
  • See the Rockies, the Grand Canyon, the Pacific Ocean and the Alps.

I doubt every one of these will come true, but here’s to hoping at least the most important ones do.

As one of my favorite literary heroines, Anne of Green Gables, once said, “I don’t know what lies around the bend, but I’m going to believe that the best does…”

Sad

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Google Images

I’m not sure why, but tonight a wave of sadness so overwhelmed me, that directly after dinner I put my pajamas on and crawled into bed. And, as I did so, tears began to trickle down my cheeks. Maybe it’s partly PMS. Maybe it was my grandmother’s snappy attitude toward me when I walked into the house earlier this evening.  Actually, I do know that had something to do with it. But I’d been feeling inexplicably blue all day, and after encountering her bad mood, I just wanted to disappear.

I only dozed off for a little bit, and then I finally sat up in bed to force myself to work on a paper for school. As I sat there, I sort of listened to a sermon being preached in the background on the radio, and when the preacher talked about the Body of Christ being a place to find healing and accountability for our brokenness, tears once more cascaded down my cheeks. Oh, if only, I said to myself, or God, out loud. If only that were true in my experience.

I’m not in a good place right now spiritually. Disappointment and disillusionment, with church, with myself, and–dare I say–even God at times, have hardened a once soft heart. I’m grieved over this, but I also don’t exactly know what to do about it. My counselor has been visibly frustrated with me lately, because, for the last few months I’ve found myself stumbling backwards. You’ll never get anywhere if you don’t try, she told me. You have to keep trying. No matter how many times you fail, you have to keep trying.

So, I’ll keep trying. I’m going to a Christmas party tomorrow evening, for the singles group at the charismatic church I’ve been attending, not really because I want to, but because I feel like I have to. I’m also hoping to join a women’s group at another church I’ve been attending. (Yes, I go to two churches now.) I’m seeking fellowship. I’m trying to put myself out there. And yet, my experiences so far have been so damn frustrating, that I don’t have very high expectations anymore.

It’s the seemingly never-ending source of frustration for me: finding meaningful relationships and accountability within the Body of Christ. I’ll keep trying, like I said. But sometimes I’m flat-out exhausted from trying. From dealing with disappointment after disappointment. So when preachers, or anyone else, claim the Body of Christ is where we’re meant to find healing and accountability, I just break down and sob. Because, apart from a few short-lived experiences in my life, that has not been the case for me. The Body of Christ is where I’ve been hurt the most, disappointed the most, rejected the most. And it shouldn’t be any wonder I have such a difficult time trusting and connecting with other Christians. Of course I blame myself. And then that just heaps more guilt and shame on top of the burdens I’m already carrying.

I am a broken, broken person. I have no problem admitting that. But I’m sick and tired of trying to make myself whole. All alone. I am too weak to keep carrying these burdens alone. While I’m definitely grateful for the few Christian friends I have, none are the sort I can just casually meet up with, or pray with, when I’m going through a rough time. Most live too far away for one thing. And so far I’ve been unable to really connect with anyone at either church I’m attending. (Unless you count going to lunch with a guy and then practically being stalked by him as “connecting.”)

So maybe my sadness today really does have a source. Maybe I’m just so weary of living in this place of brokenness and having so few people–if any–to turn to for support. Maybe I’m tired of hearing “healing only happens in community” when that community has been so hurtful and/or elusive for me. Maybe I’m tired of hearing God is enough, when He hasn’t been enough for me, and I feel incredibly guilty that I even think that. Maybe I hate the person I’ve become…indifferent, selfish, spiritually cold and cynical. Maybe, even though I’m disappointed with God, I still miss Him. Maybe all I want is to believe again all the nice, warm and fuzzy things about God that I used to believe. Maybe I’m so disillusioned with church–at least the way it’s done in America–that I feel like throwing in the towel and giving it up altogether. Maybe I just need to get out of this narcissistic, materialistic, self-centered culture I live in and go live with and serve those who have nothing–to remind myself of what truly matters.

But for now, I still feel like crying.

I have a dream…

I have a dream.

A dream of a beautiful church. A church where rich, poor, black, white, prep, goth, beautiful, not-so-beautiful, broken, whole, American, Asian, African and every other nationality and ethnicity worship together. A church without partiality. A heterogeneous church. A church made beautiful by its diversity and yet made one by the indwelling Spirit of Christ. A church where the only head is Christ, not a single man labelled a “pastor”–a church where truth and love are not mutually exclusive–a church where no one is marginalized or “slips through the cracks”–a church where discipleship is a way of life–a church where the Spirit is allowed to move freely–a church that is neither hyper-charismatic nor cessationist–a church that doesn’t water down the Gospel–a church that is worship-driven, and not entertainment-driven–a church that seeks out the lost and broken–a church where, most of all, Christ is glorified, and not man.

This is my dream. But, sadly, in the worldly and divided church that makes up most of Western Christendom, I recognize this dream most likely will never be a reality. And I also recognize I am just as much a part of the problem as anyone else. But as I deal with my own issues, and seek to become the more godly woman God wants me to be, I’ve become more and more frustrated at my inability to find a church where at least a few of the above qualities are exhibited. I know, in this fallen world, and within a church made up of saints who still sin, there will never be such a thing as a “perfect” church, and I don’t seek a “perfect” church–but I continue to wrestle with so much disillusionment when it comes to the modern, Western church.

I realize my background of growing up in a nearly-cult-like church that left me deeply scarred still influences how I perceive the church, and what I feel it should look like, but in the thirteen years since I left that negative environment, I’ve struggled to find a church where I have truly felt at home. I have felt like an “outsider” within the Body of Christ for most of my life, and while I’ve questioned over and over if this is entirely my fault or not, lately I’ve begun to wonder if my perspective as an “outsider” is God’s way of giving me more of a heart for other “outsiders.”  Maybe, just maybe, instead of seeing my difficulties as a curse, I should instead see them as a blessing in disguise. Maybe I was never meant to “fit in.” At least not in the way that most homogeneous churches these days qualify “fitting in.” If fitting in means dressing a certain way, acting a certain way, and presenting a superficial spirituality to those around me, then I absolutely will never “fit in.” And I no longer want to. I’m tired of trying to live up to other Christians’ superficial expectations of me.

But even as I’m learning that feeling like an “outsider” is not necessarily a bad thing, and that hopefully God can use this “outsider” to reach out to other “outsiders,” I’m still frustrated at my inability to find a church home. Or at least a group of believers who would be able to provide me with safe, Biblical fellowship and discipleship. It seems every time I think I’ve found a group to “plug into,” there is at least one aspect of the group that troubles me and causes me to leave. I met with a group in a home for a short time, and while they were some of the most loving people I’d ever met, they were into some crazy, charismatic stuff that really disturbed me, and I knew I couldn’t, in good conscience, participate in or agree with everything they were doing and teaching. So I left.

Then, just recently, I started attending a megachurch (much to my own astonishment, as, generally, I’m not a big fan of megachurches). It’s very entertainment-driven, with dance, rock-and-roll music, and watered-down preaching, but I liked the fact that it was full of the very sort of people I don’t see in most churches: the poor, the broken, the homeless, the “outsiders.” The kind of people I wish were in more churches. So I was willing to overlook the things I didn’t like about the church, all for the sake of being in a less stuffy, more heterogeneous atmosphere, until I found out, quite unexpectedly, that there were issues of immorality and spiritual abuse going on with the pastor and leadership. So once again I’m left with a stricken conscience, wondering if I should stop going.

The only ray of hope so far in all of this is another church service I’ve attended twice now. It’s a little Spanish congregation that’s affiliated with the megachurch, but meets in a different building and has a different pastor, and both times I’ve gone I’ve been welcomed warmly. The service is entirely in Spanish, and everyone but me are Hispanics, most of whom look as if they come from rougher parts of town, but so far I’ve really enjoyed my visits, and I’ve already been befriended and introduced to several people. They’re very enthusiastic in their worship, the pastor preaches fiery sermons that rouse loud claps, “Amens,” and other exclamations in Spanish, and I’ve been surprised at how much I actually understand, despite my rusty Spanish. I’m hoping that attending this church will, at the very least, give me an avenue to serve. I hope to begin helping out with their ESL classes–I sat in on one two nights ago and had a lovely time meeting some of the students and getting to know one of the teachers, a friendly and sweet Hispanic guy.

So I’m thankful I seem to have found some sort of fellowship for the time being, but my heart aches to be connected in a deeper way to other believers, and to receive the sort of discipleship and accountability I so desperately need. Going to church every Sunday is one thing, but I want so much more, and I continue to feel frustrated at my inability to find that “more” I want and need.

I’m tired of feeling like an island, but, so far, when I look around me at most churches, I find myself so disillusioned I want to give up altogether trying to find a place I can call “home.”

I’ll keep praying, I’ll keep searching, but maybe I simply have to lower my expectations and try to come to terms with the fact that my dream of the church, or anything remotely similar, is just that: a dream.

The chocolate-eyed girl

As a wrap-up to my “Brazil diaries,” I’d like to share one last experience that I had while in Brazil in 2005 that left the most enduring mark upon me. I didn’t record it in my journal, but a year later I wrote a piece about it, to preserve forever the life-changing impact this experience had upon me. On my very last day in Brazil, I had the privilege of hanging out with a bunch of meninos de rua, or street children, in Recife. Street children are a huge problem in Brazil’s biggest cities. They’re usually orphans and/or come from broken homes in Brazil’s favelas (slums), and they end up living on the streets because they have nowhere else to go. Many look down on them as merely a nuisance, but thankfully there are a few government-funded projects in cities like Recife that at least make an effort to reach out to them and help them. My experience involved one such project in Recife, of which I was graciously allowed to participate in for one day. That day is forever etched in my memory.

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Google images

I can still see her bewitching brown eyes, like orbs of chocolate, staring up at me out of a pixie-like face. They captured me, embraced me, the first time my own eyes fell on her hungry, slight figure. There she stood, a dark-skinned waif, with a mess of springy, brown curls sprouting from her head, clad in red shorts and a dirty white tee-shirt much too big for her, and possessing a smile whose width and radiance outshone every other grin in the room. Which was a remarkable feat, for she had some stiff competition.

Google images

Google images

As soon as I entered that dusty, colorful room above Rua Bom Jesus, one sultry afternoon last year, I was thrust into a throng of beautiful, brown-skinned ragamuffins, all wearing the same white tee-shirts and red shorts, and all vying for my attention at once–touching me, wrapping their arms around me, and peppering me with questions in Portuguese. It was an overwhelming, dizzying experience. I had only read about the heart-wrenching stories of Brazil’s homeless street kids–kids whose lives were devoid of love, poverty-stricken, and exponentially removed from my own life of wealth and ease. This was my first real face-to-face encounter with the meninos de rua and abandonados. Within only a few minutes of stepping into that room, my heart had been attacked, laid seige to, and had most willingly surrendered to the enchanting spell these lovely creatures had wound about me. There was no point in resisting…not when sparkling, dark eyes looked up into yours, or smooth, brown little arms slid around your neck, or eager, love-starved countenances begged you to notice them. But it was that one tiny waif, with the larger-than-life smile, who wove and spun the deepest and most endearing magic within my soul.

Google images

Google images

Her name was Nataliane. The very uniqueness and exotic beauty of her name arrested my attention immediately. Its pronunciation–“Nah-TAHL-ee-ah-nee”–rolled off the tongue in a delightfully addictive fashion. She was one of the first to enclose me in her slim arms, and apparently that initial hug was enough for her to decide I was a kindred spirit. For the rest of that afternoon, she rarely left my side. I had the privilege of joining her, and her fellow street friends, on an outing to a nearby amusement park. This exciting treat was made possible by workers and volunteers for the government-funded project that also fed the children, clothed them, bathed them, and gave them that dusty, colorful flat to go to during the day. On this particular day, I was a “guest volunteer.” And this “guest volunteer” had little Nataliane’s hand in hers, or little Nataliane’s arm around her waist as we boarded the bus…as we got off the bus…as we stood in line in the sweltering sun outside the park…and as we rushed in great excitement from one ride to another within the park.  She became my shadow, my sidekick, my new amiga. She was also a vivacious package of insatiable curiosity, her mind a-whirl with questions of every sort–all of which tumbled from her pretty, wide mouth in such rapid Portuguese that I often struggled to comprehend her. And every question that she uttered was preceded by “Tia,” her affectionate appellation for me–a word that literally means “aunt.”

“Tia…how old are you? Tia, tia…where do you live? Tia…do you have children? Tia…do you like Brazil? Tia, tia…what is America like? Tia, tia..” On and on her childish voice would trip. But I never tired of it. I never tired of her. Her sweet presence was soothing, her joyful, effervescent personality was like a burst of literal sunshine. And every time she clasped me in her arms and gazed up at me with those love-hungry eyes, something inside me churned, slid, and completely caved in. I could not help but fall under her spell.

61050019As the sun sank in the western sky, hastening in shadows and cool breezes, it signaled the close of our day at the park. I boarded the bus once again, surrounded by thirty-some sopping, shivering, and bedraggled children, whose last joy-filled event of the day had been the water ride. My heart was laden with ambivalent feelings: immense happiness from an unforgettable day, but also sorrow from the knowledge that the next morning I would be on a plane headed for the US, and that I would never see any of these amazing meninos again. Throughout the day Nataliane had gazed up at me with her mesmerizing eyes and asked me if she would see me amanha–or, “tomorrow.” And every time I had tried to explain to her, no, I would not, for I was going home, far away from Brazil. She didn’t understand. Foot-sore and sun-burnt, I sank down gratefully into my seat on the bus, and Nataliane climbed into my lap. She was soaking wet. But I didn’t care. I wrapped my arms around her thin, shivering body, clutching her close, as she laid her tired head on my shoulder. At last too weary to speak, she was content to rest silently in my arms. I stroked her soft, brown little curls, my heart breaking to pieces inside. I wanted to hang on to this precious moment–this beautiful, magical child–and never let them go. But it was all slipping…slipping away so fast. She…this dirty, wet, disheveled, and radiant little creature…was slipping away from me. And she didn’t even realize it. But I knew, for her sake, it was better that way.

By the time our bus reached the flat on Rua Bom Jesus, only a handful of children–Nataliane included–remained. The rest had been dropped off at their usual “spots” around the city. The kids were given an evening snack, and then it was time for goodbyes. I squeezed Nataliane as hard as I dared, my eyes glistening with tears.

“Tchau, minha amiga…tchau,” I said to her. She gave me several beijos (kisses), and I returned them. Her eyes latched onto mine, as that luminous smile adorned her face, spreading from cheek to cheek. There were no tears in her eyes–just innocence, unconcern, and a deep well of warmth. After all, she was sure, so sure, she would see me amanha.

“Tchau, Tia,” she said cheerfully. “Ate logo.”

“Ate logo,” I replied quietly.

Google images

Google images

I walked with her and her remaining companions out onto the cobblestone road, whose surface gleamed beneath the golden haze of the streetlights. I watched as she and her friends skipped on ahead, into the shadows, their musical speech, punctuated by laughter, echoing off the stone and concrete. As the dimness beyond the lights began to shroud their slender silhouettes, I realized they were slipping into shadows and darkness far more frightening than the literal ones that encompassed them. The ache in my chest suddenly felt like a tight knot. How could I leave her? My little Nataliane would have no pillow beneath her curly head that night, no loving parents to kiss and hold her, no one to tell her she deserved a better life. I wanted to sweep her light frame into my arms, to whisk her away from all the danger and heartache. But I knew I couldn’t. My only comfort lay in the fact that, for one memorable afternoon, I had done a small part to improve her impoverished life, to bestow love into her love-less universe. And she, with her buoyant spirit and freely-given affection, had touched my life immeasurably.

As the gloom gathered about her little figure diminishing in the distance, Nataliane turned around, and her sparkling, chocolate eyes caught mine one last time. She waved at me enthusiastically, her smile shining like a beacon in the blackness around her. I waved back, trying to ignore the tight squeezing in my chest.

“Tchau, sweetheart,” I whispered. “And may God be with you…”

The darkness then swallowed up her waifish form. But the image that will remain with me forever simply contains that gorgeous smile, and those eyes…those big, brown eyes that grabbed my heart, and still won’t let it go…

Google images

Google images

The Brazil diaries, part 3

A Frog’s Tale

treefrog9/15/05  So last night was fun. Shortly before I went to bed I discovered a cute little tree frog had joined me in my room. Quite the cute, harmless little thing, so I paid him no mind. Until he started hopping everywhere. Unlike your average, slow, fat American toads and frogs, this little guy knew how to leap. When he leapt, he really leapt. All over the place. He scared the bejeebers outta me the first time he hopped on my bed. The lights were out, I had my headphones on, and was just getting comfortable when–thump, right in the middle of the bed. I literally jumped out of bed, as my headphones and CD player went crashing to the floor. I flipped the light switch on, but by this time he had jumped to the floor. I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing it was just the frog that had produced the thump in my bed. He wouldn’t let me get anywhere near him, though, and quickly darted underneath my bed. I decided to try to go to sleep again, turned off the lights, and crawled back into bed. But now I was paranoid. I didn’t cherish the idea of having a frog hopping all over me while I’m trying to sleep–harmless, but a nuisance. I kept turning on my flashlight, scanning the room, trying to find him. And then there he was again, sitting now on the floor on the other side of  the bed. Suddenly I knew I was not going to sleep peacefully until something was done about the frog.

So I got up and turned the light on again. The frog hopped around some more, evading me, and eventually ended up on the wall, up near the ceiling. I went in search of some “tools” with which to capture the frog. I came back armed with the lid to a pot and a toy sword belonging to M. It was now after one in the morning, and my commotion awakened C., who came to see what was wrong. With the sword I had gotten the frog off the wall, but now he had disappeared in, or  underneath, the other bed in the room. C. helped me look for him, but even after flipping the mattress, moving furniture, and looking in every nook we could think of, the frog eluded us. Crafty little thing! Or had we squashed him accidentally? In any case, we couldn’t find him, C. went back to bed, and I tried to go back to sleep. But as I lay there in the dark, I couldn’t sleep. I knew–just knew–that frog was lurking somewhere, and was waiting for another opportune moment to jump on my bed. And…he did. This time the thump was right near my head. I had had enough! I jumped up again, but not out of fear. I turned on the lights, and there he was, that sneaky little animal, sitting on the floor again, beside my bed.

So I took action again. I finally cornered him, in between the wall and the big armoire and managed to clamp the pot lid over him. But then I realized I had done a dumb thing in not having something to slide underneath the lid. Was I to chase this little booger all night? I thought. I lifted the lid and discovered him sitting inside it. Much to my surprise, he didn’t jump out. I was able to carry him to the window as he sat calmly in the lid. As if he knew exactly what I was doing, he waited until I placed the lid in view of the great outdoors, and then he leapt out so fast I simply looked down and he wasn’t there anymore. I was much relieved to finally be able to go to bed and sleep in peace. There were no more thumps on my bed that night.

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9/16/05  I have been here four weeks now. Wow. Four more to go. Hard to believe.

Even though I do look forward to going home, I know I will probably cry when I leave here. The thought of saying goodbye to all those adorable children at the school makes me so, so sad. I’ve really come to love them. I wish I could pluck a few of them and take them home with me! 74310009My most enthusiastic little “amigo” greets me every day with a huge grin and wave. He’s probably eleven years old, and I can’t help but feel a little attached to him because he reminds me so much of [one of my brothers] when he was younger. Slightly plump, the same mass of dark hair on his head, big talker–his resemblance is uncanny. He’s in my favorite class, the one full of mostly younger kids…There is one little boy in that class that is so cute. His name’s L., and he’s also quite the smart little kid. When I first arrived he asked me more questions out of genuine curiosity than any other child.

Yesterday he walked with me to the bus stop after school was over, and I had the loveliest conversation with him. He speaks almost no English, so our conversation was in Portuguese, but we still managed just fine. Once again, he had so many questions for me. Quite the talker, actually!

I didn’t mention it before, but there was an adorable little street boy who attached himself to our group when we were in Natal. All of us girls fell all over him. We knew he was just trying to get food and money from us (and he did), but he was just too adorable to turn away…Some day, maybe, I’ll be able to adopt, or care for, needy children. There are so many not only in Brazil, but around the world.

The Brazil diaries, part 1

55880019Sometimes a pleasant jaunt down memory lane is all it takes to jolt oneself out of the “blues.”

Recently I came across a journal I kept during a two-month visit to Olinda, Brazil in 2005, in which I volunteered as an assistant English teacher in a public school. I have had very few truly joyful and soul-satisfying experiences in my life, but the time I spent in Brazil nearly eight years ago (I can hardly believe it’s been that long!) was definitely one of those experiences. Re-reading my journal brought back many happy memories, as well as some “what was I thinking” and “boy, I was stupid and naive then” moments, particularly in regards to a brief relationship I had with a Brazilian young man while there. (I will not be sharing the details of that drama, as it’s far too personal, and did not end well.) However, I feel as if it would be a shame not to share at least some of what I experienced during this time in Brazil, if only to impart to those who have never visited this amazing country some of the richness and beauty of its people, culture, and landscape. Brazil, more than any country I’ve been to, feels like home to me, and I hope one day I can literally call it home. I am, and always will be, in my heart, a “brasileira.”

Without further ado, the first installment of my “Brazil diaries”:

8/19/05 Here I am at last, in Olinda, in the home of R. and C. and their three-year-old son, M. They are definitely not poor by Brazilian standards–probably middle-class–but they are still without many of the amenities that I, as a spoiled American, am used to, and they live in what looks like a rougher section of Olinda. The apartment is small but clean, and they have cable TV and internet, but there is no AC, the toilets don’t flush toilet paper, they wash clothes by hand, and the shower involves two shower heads–one that spouts only scalding, hot water and the other, only cold water. I took a shower today and used the cold water–it actually felt good, since it’s so warm and humid in the apartment.

The window in my room has a bottom portion that has no glass or screening of any kind, so fresh air and breezes blow in my room constantly. I get to hear all the noise outside as well. During the day there are children playing in the courtyard below, sometimes people blast music next door, and the traffic outside is nearly constant. It’s definitely a very different sort of environment here, but I’m adjusting!

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558800068/21/05 Since I’d still seen so little of Olinda, I was able to procure the company of A., S., and W., three of the Brits, on a trek into the historic district, or “old town” center, of the city. It was quite a walk, especially into the historic part, which sat atop a huge hill, but I welcomed the exercise, and it was well worth it in the end. The “old” part of Olinda is beautiful. Gorgeous, colorful, Spanish-colonial-style buildings line the streets, and they all overlook a magnificent view of the Atlantic Ocean and nearby Recife. All along the main road there are shops and outdoor vendors selling massive quantities of handmade crafts and jewelry.

We wore ourselves out on our trek, so W. suggested a nearby restaurant/bar to go to for some drinks. It hit the spot. It was a gorgeous place–we sat at a table on the veranda in the rear, which was situated atop a steep hill and gave us a breathtaking view, through flowers and palm fronds, of the beach in the distance and the skyscrapers of Recife. It felt kind of surreal, and we had a lovely time.55880011

By the time we departed, dusk was beginning to settle in, and the “brasileiros” began to emerge in throngs. The main square was filled with the mostly dark-skinned, fun-loving people, and we immediately heard drums beating. We saw a crowd gathered round one part of the square, so we hurried to take a look. Pairs of men were taking turns doing the “capoeira” dance, most bare-foot, and some bare-chested. Though I’d seen capoeira before, it has always fascinated me, and it was extra special to see it actually done, on the spot, in a Brazilian street. It just added to the whole “flavor” of the day.

I can’t wait to explore more in the days to come, and to immerse myself even more in this beautiful and fascinating culture.

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8/22/05 Today was my first day “teaching” English. I was a bit nervous and a bit intimidated, but once I entered the classroom, full of those beautiful, dark-skinned, dark-haired children, noisy and wild as they could be, yet grinning at me, I felt strangely at ease. I felt a weird sort of confidence.

The English teacher, a middle-aged Brazilian man (a Profesor S.), was very nice, and mainly just had me do the pronunciation with the kids. I was so glad I was simply an assistant, for the teacher had to spend half the classroom time keeping the kids in order. I actually helped him with three classes–the end of the first, all of the middle one, and the beginning of the last one. It was the middle class that was the rowdiest, as most of them were fairly young, but I actually enjoyed them the most. They had so many questions for me and about me, wanted my signature on their notebooks, and when I left the classroom, they surrounded me and showered me with friendly goodbyes. In short, they stole my heart!

74310007My time here so far has been very thought-provoking. Though I wake up every morning to a warm, muggy room, though I am without many of the luxuries I am used to, and though I look around me at filth, decay and poverty that are unheard of in the US, I wouldn’t trade this time here for anything. I rode on my first bus this evening to get back to C. and R.’s, and as I sat there, wind blowing from the open window on my face, just watching the scenery go by, I kept thinking, This fits me, this brings me contentment. A deep sense of joy flooded me.

On the subject of “going”

I first came across this amazing young woman’s blog a year or two ago, before her book, Kisses from Katie, was even published, and was so inspired and moved by her story, and how God was using her in Africa, that I would cry out to God, why can’t I be her? Why am I stuck here? I want, simply, to GO.

I posted an entry nearly three years ago (I can hardly believe it was that long ago—seems like yesterday) along a similar vein to what I’m about to share, titled, appropriately enough, “Go,” in which I used another video featuring another amazing woman of God, as a springboard for pouring out my desire and conviction on serving the “least of these” in other parts of the world.

That desire has not gone away. In fact, over the last several months, it has increased. Exponentially. To the point where I can no longer ignore it, and to the point where I feel it’s almost necessary I go.

I feel I am at an important crossroads in my life. An important crossroads in my walk with God. I used to think, God, I can never go, never be used by you, because I’m so screwed up. I’m not “normal” like Katie, or Jackie Pullinger—I’m definitely one of God’s “crippled ones.” One of the “least” myself. One of His weak and foolish ones. I’ve about given up trying to fit in with “normal” Christians, in “normal” churches. The more I sit in church the more I feel uncomfortable sitting there. I used to think it was just me. But now I think perhaps it’s not just me. Maybe what qualifies as a “normal” American Christian church is about as far from normal as it’s supposed to be, at least Biblically. And maybe I’m trying too hard to fit into a place I was never meant to fit in. Because if a broken person like me doesn’t feel comfortable in most American Christian churches, but feels comfortable with other broken people, with those who are considered the “least” by the world, then maybe being with the “least” is where I’m meant to be.

So, even though I love being a student, and still want to pursue a degree, the idea of spending the next few years of my life wrapped up in acadamia here in the US has grown less and less appealing, and the idea of simply letting go of everything I hold dear, leaving this materialistic culture, and going to serve and live with the poor in some other part of the world has grown more and more attractive. I’m hating more and more the person I’m becoming, as addicted to “stuff,” clothing, possessions, status, etc., as any ordinary, unsaved American beside me. And Jesus keeps whispering to me—as He has been for some time, only more loudly it seems now—“Let go.” Because following Him means being willing to give everything up for Him. And I’m devastated to see just how like the culture around me I’ve become, and how I’ve lost sight of eternal things, and what’s most important to His heart. And I also am beginning to wonder if the answer to all my “issues” is not years of more counseling, deliverances, etc. (none of which have helped me long-term anyway), but simply heeding God’s call, and going to where the truly broken and outcast are, so that my own problems are put into perspective. Living here in the US it’s simply too easy to become self-focused and complacent.

So I don’t know exactly what this means for me. I still desire to pursue the whole linguistics thing, and maybe still eventually serve with Wycliffe, but right now I feel as if He’s pointing me in another direction—maybe just for a season, maybe more long term, I’m really not sure at this point. I’m just asking Him, when, where, how? After this semester ends, I have no plans. Just a question mark I’m praying God will answer. I will have little to no debt, no obligations here, no attachments, nothing to hinder me (except for money—but I’m learning that when you’re in God’s will, even that’s not an issue) from simply going wherever He wants me to go.

Because I’m beginning to believe that it’s in the going that the healing comes. My most treasured, joyful experiences in life have been the ones where I was with the poor and needy in other countries, where self was forgotten, and the love of God filled my heart. I want to learn again what it means to be “poor in spirit,” to see the world not through these jaded, materialistic, superficial, American eyes, but through the eyes of the Spirit, which see not as man sees, but as God sees. In which the outcasts, rejects, and broken ones that the world overlooks—that even many in the church overlook—are precious and valuable.

Maybe I’m all wrong about this. There’s the possibility I’m not hearing God in this. But if I’m not, I sure hope He slams the door in my face. Because I don’t know for what other purpose these strong convictions and desires exist in my heart, and why they’ve been growing only stronger in recent months.

As Katie says in the video, Jesus does not ask that we care for the less fortunate—-He demands it. And I hear Him, more and more, demanding I care for the least, demanding my sacrifice, my obedience, and my surrender, no matter where it takes me. And though my flesh may resist, ultimately I know that what He says is true: those who seek to save their lives will lose them; those who lose their lives will find them.

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” ~Jim Elliot

Go

I want to go! Oh God, send me. I have never wanted to be here. The American, suburban, middle-class way of life has never appealed to me. I long to be amongst the poor, the downtrodden, and the oppressed. My heart is with them…it is not here. My fondest memories are the times I have spent with the “least of these.”

berber girlsPlaying hide and seek with a little Nicaraguan girl outside her tin shack in the middle of a city dump. Holding close to my breast the soaking-wet street girl from Recife, Brazil—-Nataliane, she of the big brown eyes and the beautiful smile. Teaching English to a room full of poor Brazilian children, who forever touched my life with their exuberance, creativity, and warm hearts. Holding the hand of a beautiful little Moroccan girl, who followed me around a city square and would not let me go. Crying as I listened to Paula, the dirty Nicaraguan street girl, relate matter-of-factly her life of abuse and neglect.Nicaragua II 115

I ache to go back to ones such as these. But what does going really mean? Perhaps I have been rather naive about what is really involved in the actual going. It is not about merely feeling a nice feeling of sympathy….it is about laying down one’s very life. Every inch of it.

I just finished reading the book Chasing the Dragon, the story of how this one woman, Jackie Pullinger (the speaker in the video) obeyed God’s voice and laid down her life for the drug addicts, prostitutes, and the poorest of the poor in Hong Kong, and as a result she saw hundreds come to Christ. She didn’t just preach the Gospel…..she lived it. And her story—-which I would tell, only it’s too amazing to even sum up, one just has to read the book—has affected me in a profound way.

I have always had a heart for the poor, the broken, and the needy, but perhaps I never really understood till now that serving the poor means more than giving them a hug or a handout now and then….it means total sacrifice. Jackie described compassion as not just a nice feeling one has…..but as something that’s gut-wrenching and bold and propels one to action. Jesus displayed this kind of compassion. And He was willing to give His own life because of it. And that is what we, as Christians, are called to do as well. It’s not enough to send a check now and then, or donate to the food bank….are we willing to give up our time, our selfish pursuits, our resources, anything and everything, in order to show even one broken person Who Jesus is?

ninosThat is the challenge that God is laying at my own doorstep, and one which I must confront. How much am I willing to give up? Though I tell myself I’m not as materialistic as most people around me, God keeps nudging me, showing me how attached I actually am to so many worthless things. Where your heart is, there is your treasure also. Store up your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust and thieves cannot steal or destroy. Where is my treasure?? Is it in financial security? Is it in looks? Is it in clothes? Is it in ANY of my material possessions? Because if I am not willing to give up any of these comforts, then I have just betrayed where my treasure is.

So I’ve been feeling pretty convicted lately, as I’ve realized I have not been laying up my treasure in heaven. Following Christ is no half-hearted affair. And though I desire, more than anything, to GO, and to be Christ’s hands and feet to the least, I have to realize that ministering to the least means being willing to become the least myself. To take the lowest position, to be a servant of all. What did Jesus tell the rich, young man who came to him, asking what else he could do to inherit eternal life, after claiming he had kept all the commandments? “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Matthew 19:21)berber boys

Jackie Pullinger also had something else enlightening to say in regards to compassion, and she referenced I John 3:17, which says, in the King James version: “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” She pointed out that the phrase “bowels of compassion,” while to our modern ears might sound very strange, is actually a very appropriate description. True compassion always pours out. It never holds in, or shuts itself up. What we have in this day and age, according to Jackie, are too many “constipated Christians.” God has given us so much, and instead of pouring back out everything He has given us—which is what we are meant to do—we have held it all in, till we have become sick and “constipated.” It would be a humorous analogy if it weren’t so true!

I no longer want to be a “constipated Christian.” Nothing I have is mine anyway—-how selfish and deluded I am to think I “own” anything. Everything I have is a gift, and if I do not learn to give more than I receive, then what a pitiful creature I’ve become. Thinking I am rich when in reality I am blind and poor.

But where do I start? For now, as much as I want to go, I know I cannot. I think it ironic that the ones who are so often hesitant to go, God sends with great urgency, and ones like myself, who accept the call with alacrity, are held back. At least for the time being. I am still in my Valley of Achor, so broken, so wounded, that I am tempted every day to give in to despair. This pathetic excuse for a blog has been my attempt to vent the pain that I feel, and I am ashamed of many things I have written, many things I have done and said, but God knows my heart, and hopefully He will redeem every broken, shattered piece of my life and use it for His glory. All I can do is hope that He is using all the painful parts of my life to shape me more into His image, and to prepare me for whatever lies ahead.

“For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.” (I Corinthians 1:26-29)tabajara3

I’m certainly one of those “foolish things,” one of those “base and despised things.” I’m not wise, I’m not mighty, I’m not noble. I have absolutely nothing in the flesh to boast of. But maybe….just maybe….that’s the whole point. God has to break me to use me. He has to strip me of all pride and self-sufficiency. Part of the process of gaining that heart for the broken and outcast is to know what it feels like to be broken and outcast oneself. How amazing that Jesus, the Lord of heaven and earth, allowed Himself to be “despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and like one from whom men hide their face.” If He “despised the shame for the joy set before Him,” then who am I to complain of my own shame and suffering, and how can I learn to even “despise” it, as He did?

Recently, God showed me some beautiful and thought-provoking verses in Micah, that I had never noticed before. Micah 4:6-7 says, “In that day,” declares the LORD, “I will assemble the lame and gather the outcasts, even those whom I have afflicted. I will make the lame a remnant and the outcasts a strong nation, and the LORD will reign over them in Mount Zion from now on and forever.”

What a beautiful promise! But I found it interesting that God doesn’t shy away from revealing that He is the One Who often does the afflicting of the lame and the outcasts. He who allowed Himself to be afflicted also sovereignly allows His children to be afflicted. Hosea 6:1 presents the same idea: “Come, let us return to the LORD. ForHe has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us.” What a strange thing, and at first glance, it causes us to question His goodness.

But we have to understand that any afflictions He allows into our lives, He allows out of love, and bears with us, as He allowed Himself to be “smitten of God, and afflicted.” This is something that I am only beginning to truly understand.

So, regardless of how painful things get, I have to remember that one day I, who am actually privileged to be a part of that group of lame and outcasts, will be part of a “strong nation.” I, who am so, so weak, and so, so broken. It’s hard for me to comprehend, but it does bring me comfort. I can’t wait to see that day. Those who in this life are deemed the “least,” will one day be the “greatest.” The poor. The afflicted. The needy. The downtrodden. The oppressed. The broken. The lame. A strong nation! Not for man’s glory, but for God’s.

veracruz2So send me, God! Help me to learn what it means to lay down my life. To die so that others may live. To store up my treasure in heaven, and not here on this earth. Show me how I can reach out to those who are around me even now….for there is need where I am now, though it might be harder to see than in a third-world country. Give me your eyes, your hands, your feet. Show me the path You want me to take. And in your perfect time, that which You have torn, please heal; and that which You have wounded, please bandage. Make me whole, so that I might better serve You.

In the name of Christ??

I recently came across these videos on the web, and tears streamed down my face as I watched them. It’s outrageous enough that children should ever suffer abuse and abandonment, but to suffer at the hands of those who claim to be Christians, all in the name of Christ, is even more outrageous and intolerable. Where is the outcry of the church? Why is such a thing being tolerated? God bless the young man who is helping these children. Ironically, he is not even a believer.

The least of the least

Nicaraguan girl Nothing puts one’s own problems in perspective better than being around those whose lives are far worse than one’s own. In the midst of my own battles and trials, God allowed me to witness firsthand what true hardship really is.

The little girl on the left lives in Managua, Nicaragua. She lives with her family in one of the most unimaginable places. In the city dump. She is an outcast among outcasts, the lowest of the low. An “untouchable.” I had seen pictures of this dump, through my brother and father, who had been there before, but nothing quite prepared me for the shock of seeing and experiencing it myself. One can hardly believe that human beings exist there at all. I have seen and experienced horrible poverty in other parts of the world—-the infamous favelas in Brazil, the extremely poor in Morocco—-but even those glimpses were still easier to digest than what I saw in Nicaragua.

Almost no one ventures into “the dump.” Its smoke, from burning trash, can be seen miles away. Garbage trucks are constantly entering and exiting, depositing more mounds of trash to the seemingly endless, hilly terrain of human waste. The smell and the smoke are toxic, sickening. I was almost immediately made ill by the smoke and fumes. My eyes watered, I began to sneeze.

I was dismayed to realize just how repulsed I was by what I saw. Not just a natural revulsion, but the kind of revulsion that comes from a life of ease and comfort. Something within me wanted to run, to get away from such a horrible place, to not have to face what I was seeing.

But, thankfully, I couldn’t go anywhere. I had to face the devastating, repulsive reality in front of me. And as I did so, God whispered into my heart and convicted me. Where would Jesus be, were He walking on the earth today? He would be right amongst these people who live in the dump. He would be ministering to them. And as His hands and feet upon this earth now, I am called to do the same thing. To reach out to “the least of these.” I have always thought I had a heart for “the least of these,” but my view of who “the least of these” encompassed was somewhat limited, much to my own shame. No longer. That day in “the dump” was a truly challenging, eye-opening experience.

I also had a revelation of sorts. As I pondered over my extreme revulsion to the filth around me in that place, I suddenly had a clearer understanding of how God sees our sin, and how it makes Him feel. I could just see all that ugly, smelly, rotting trash as a picture of our sin. When God looks at it, it makes Him feel much the same way I felt when I looked at the trash. He is repulsed by it. His righteousness, holiness, and purity cannot help but be repulsed by it. But the difference between me and God is that His love is so great that He is able to step into the filth despite His revulsion to it. He loved us so much He took all that rotting filth upon Himself at the cross. And that is an amazing, amazing thing to comprehend.

Could I have the same kind of sacrificial love? Would I be willing to put aside my comfortable life to live in a place like “the dump” in Managua, simply to reach out to and love the people who live there? Isn’t that what washing each other’s feet means? Isn’t that what picking up one’s cross, and denying oneself means? If I am truly filled with the love of Christ, then no place should be so dirty, so low, and so ugly that I cannot go there to be His salt and light. I am ashamed of my fattened, lazy brand of Christianity, the one propagated here in the US, that primarily focuses on “our” needs, “our” wants, “our” desires. What about the needs of others?

That little Nicaraguan girl, and her family, taught me many lessons that day. Truly, as Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Despite their extreme poverty, this family humbled me by their sweetness, their humility, their kindness, and their simple faith. Such riches are far greater than any material riches. And I truly believe that when Jesus reigns in the new heaven and the new earth, it will be those like this family in Nicaragua—-the poor and outcasts of this world—–who will have great places of honor. The places of honor will not be occupied by those whom the world esteems. Or even those, perhaps, that we Christians esteem. No, for again, as Jesus said, “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.”

That is a ray of hope in a world of cruel injustice. One day, God’s justice will prevail.