The Vision & a prayer

Several months ago I was asked to write a short article about my somewhat extraordinary experience with 24/7 Prayer. It was never published, so here you go…

Summer 2001. Youth With a Mission, Ensenada, Mexico: It was the first night of a youth group mission trip. A British guy came on stage and shared ‘The Vision’. He said it came out of London, but no one really knew much about it. The words on that crumpled up piece of paper with the MSN logo at the top seared my brain and my heart. They changed my life. They made my palms sweat and my eyes water. At that moment I wanted to leap from my chair and sing, and shout… and yell… and get a tattoo. From that moment on I was different.

Fast forward a twelve years and I’ve just moved to London from California. I don’t know very many people but I’m determined to build a life in the city I’ve been drawn to my whole life. Happenstance and a Google glitch brought me to the youth service at HTB my second week in London. I stood awkwardly on my own waiting for the service to start when Bill Cahusac spotted me and made me feel welcome. Later that week the Cahusac family invited me over for supper where I regaled them with my life story. When I got to the part about ‘The Vision’ Bill stopped me— “You know my boss, Pete Grieg, wrote that?”

And suddenly the last twelve years make sense. The twelve years of trials and disappointments. The twelve years it took me to achieve my dream of moving to London. God was there all along. God’s plan was in motion.

I did not choose 24-7 Prayer, God chose it for me. Spending an hour in a room praying sounds intimidating, but from the first time I walked into the prayer hut in July, I wanted to hunker down and stay forever. Though we can pray from anywhere, to walk into this space is to walk where fellow soldiers of the faith, fighters of the good fight, feeble criers of desperation and earnest seekers of Truth have walked. It is a safe place where walls come down and insecurities lose their sting; where inner monologue quiets enough to let the Lord speak clearly. Stepping into the Prayer Hut is like being enveloped in a warm soft blanket on the couch at God’s feet. Something I desperately need, and have long been searching for. 

I’ve been making my way towards this place for a dozen years and I am so thankful to have finally arrived. I’ve come home.

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“You make beautiful things out of the dust.” Gungor

I’ve been in London for just over four months. I am completely, utterly, fantastically, miraculously happy and in love with this city. Every morning feels a bit like Christmas and I regularly find myself looking out the bus window/coming out of the underground/walking out my front door and just marveling at this life I lead.

Albert Bridge LondonI expected to love it here (why would I move 5,000 miles otherwise!?), what I didn’t expect is for it to be so good. I didn’t expect to find the most amazing church and meet the MOST wonderful people so fast. What I didn’t expect was to see the hard things of the last several years (YWAM, my road trip, Haiti) to suddenly fall into place and make sense. What I didn’t expect is for God to “repay [me] for the years the locusts have eaten” (Joel 2:25). I didn’t expect restoration and such complete joy.

(I am, however, expecting winter to kick my ass.)

Today I started my graduate program at London College of Fashion. Today I was encouraged to blog and explore and collaborate, and ask questions, and to embrace life in London by the best dressed faculty in the world (probably). This week is induction week, so I won’t get to the brass tacks of my program for a couple weeks yet, but I am so excited to be here and to be embarking on this journey here and now. I plan to embrace it with every fiber of my being.

I can’t believe this is my real life.

Image“[T.S.] Eliot began to wonder if there was any room for art in a world gone mad. How could a responsible Christian devote time to poetry or fiction?” Philip Yancy (I Was Just Wondering, 130)

I grew up wondering why secular music was so much cooler than the Christian stuff. I couldn’t figure out why the Red Hot Chili Peppers were so good and Deleriou5 was just ok. (Don’t judge, it was the 90’s.) I thought, if we’re so connected to The Creator, why don’t we make better music?

As I got older I saw this in other mediums, too. Classical religious art notwithstanding, Christian art always seems to fall short. As Christians, shouldn’t we be more plugged into The Creator? Shouldn’t my faith make me a better artist?

According to Philip Yancy, T.S. Eliot was driven to conversion over anxiety over the future. Many complained that his conversion ruined his writing, that it “lacked the depth and genius of [his] early works”. (Yancy,130) He accepted writing assignments from the church, wrote captions for war photos, and for awhile turned totally away from writing to work in economics.

“He had apparently lost faith in the power of art.” (Yancy, 131)

What Christian believes in the power of art? Not many. We believe in being useful, in helping, in spreading the Gospel, feeding the hungry, being contributing members of society. (Whether we do it is another story.) But what worthwhile Christian holes up in a studio writing poetry, sculpting, painting, or composing photos?

When I got home from Haiti I was all rip-roarin’ to go save the world, and I am so glad God stopped me in my tracks. In that time I forgot the power of art, and in my recovery from the issues that spawned from my time in that devastated land I learned the healing power of art.

So I am going to say it: I am an artist. It is a gift from God and I should not hide it under a bushel, as they say. The more immersed in art I get in school, the happier and more myself I feel. And you know, we’re one body with many parts. We’ve all grown up hearing that, but suddenly it makes so much more sense to me. I can’t be everything, and I shouldn’t be.

So here’s to being as good as, if not better than, the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

On Recovering From Short Term Missions

Who takes care of the missionaries? What happens when they come home ruined?

I’ve always imagined deep down inside of me was this tall, cool, still glass of water on a table. It’s full and it’s very, very still. Things happen all around. I am up and I am down, there are good times and bad, questions and answers… but always the glass is still.

When my life all fell apart in Los Angeles two years ago my heart died. My dreams broke. But still the glass remained. Still and calm. While I roamed the country I could still see it deep down in there somehow- it was hard to reach, a struggle to find, but I knew it was there.

But what happens when you dump your cup out? What if you pour it all out for Jesus. For His people… and it stays empty?

In my experience with serving and missions and the developing world is that when you pour out you are also refilled. “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16) And even though those experiences are difficult and trying- they often produce some kind of spiritual mountain top experience. It is good to serve the Lord and to be where He calls.

Or like my time in China. It was really, really hard and it felt like a waste- but still I felt God’s cover over me. When we were in danger I felt the Lords protection over my body and my mind. I had no effects of trauma at all, and in the end I felt like I learned a lot about leadership and submission.

But what about Haiti? I know God used me there. I have no doubts at all the peoples lives are different- better- because I was obedient to the call. I know God called me there and I know that I was supposed to go and I know that, on several occasions, God protected me from serious harm.

Usually when you go on a short term mission trip (anything under a year is considered short term) you come home, decompress, make some life changes (maybe) and keep moving. I am stuck. I’ve been back for months and I am still stuck. Not just, ‘I want to go back and I miss my friends’ stuck (though there is that, too) but I still feel like I just got beaten with a baseball bat stuck.

I feel like what I saw in Haiti- not one single experience, but it all as a whole- really confused my perception of God. Why do people have to suffer so so much? For the first time (maybe ever) I feel like I poured my cup out and it’s still empty. That tall, cool, still glass of water is parched and dry. The glass is cracked and dirty.

So who takes care of the strong ones? Who takes care of the missionaries? And what are we supposed to be doing with ourselves? I can’t just keep on living like nothing happened, but I don’t have the strength or the resources to really help or change anything. (I have ideas and half-formed plans to make changes in Haiti, but I don’t even know how to start.)

Note: I am generally opposed to really, like, ’emo’ or TMI type blog posts, and I hope this doesn’t come off as such. I feel like I am really struggling with some stuff and I really don’t intend for these questions to be rhetorical. Since my time in Haiti was so public, it seems fitting for the recovery to be, too. I can’t possibly be the only person home from the mission field wondering how God can allow such human suffering and I think it’s good for us to think about and talk about these things.

How He Loves…

I had been home from Haiti only a couple weeks. I was stage left waiting to go up and share about my experience with the congregation. Everything was fresh. Raw. I didn’t know where I was or where it would take me, but I knew I was deep. Deep in the inexpressible.

He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree

The opening lines. I had heard this song before, but I couldn’t make a connection.

Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy

It was dark and the lights were bright. I was wearing a teal sweater and my senses were overwhelmed. I was in another world far, far away from the tents in Haiti.

When all of a sudden,
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realise just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.

And suddenly I am tapped in. I am feeling. I don’t know what I am feeling or where it is going to take me, but it’s cathartic. I’m getting it out.

And oh, how He loves us so,
Oh how He loves us,
How He loves us all

It’s like this song is a key to what’s locked inside. I don’t know how to get to it. I still don’t know what all I am dealing with since Haiti. I am still a mess about it all. It’s been several months now, and it still feels fresh. I still can’t reconsile the things I saw there. The places I went. The people I met. They are still there. They are still hurting and hungry and dying. But He loves us?

We are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,
If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.

And every time this song plays I am back in the dark wearing my teal cardigan. I am fresh off the mission field and I am as lost as ever. Somewhere there is grace and mercy and all I can do is sink in it. Let it wash over me. Find the place of trust and know that God knows what He is doing. And let it out.

So Heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss,
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest,
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets,
When I think about, the way that He loves us

I feel this. My heart is violent. Life doesn’t make sense. I live in a mansion (practically), I have too much to eat and two sources of income… my friends in Haiti are starving and live in tents (and I use the term very loosely). But. When I think about how He loves us and what really matters in the scheme of things… it really is true. I don’t have time to maintain these regrets when I think about the way that He loves us. US. All of us. The Haitians. He died for them. He loves Marjolene and Jhonnyka more than I ever can.

That’s the thing to do, then. The prize to keep my eyes fixed on: how He loves us.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.       2 Corinthians 4:16-18

And with that I leave you. Mull that over and let’s get this Lent season rolling.

 

The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen

The Wounded Healer. I like that. I identify with that.

In our last Bible study book, The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith, in the chapter called ‘God Transforms’ the author shared a story about vulnerability:

Wanting to communicate the paradox of how we minister to others through our brokenness, he took a cardboard box and asked his students to “beat it up”. They punctured holes in the box, kicked it around and tore pieces off of it. Then he placed the box on the table in front of them all. Underneath the box was a light. He dimmed the house lights, and then turned on the light inside of the box. He didn’t need to say any more. They all understood. The light of Jesus shines clearly through our broken places.

The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith (page 163)

That passage illustration resonates with me. Most of the time I feel like I am walking through life with a broken leg and a bleeding heart- but, as Gayle Jonas told me, there is a purpose to the pain.

So I picked up The Wounded Healer. I love Nouwen and the title seems appropriate…

The Wounded Healer is broken up into four sections: Ministry in a Dislocated World, Ministry for a Rootless Generation, Ministry to a Hopeless Man and Ministry by a Lonely Minister. I was very tempted to jump straight to the last chapter- and I am really glad I didn’t. Each chapter got progressively better, and they built on each other (as one would expect).

Nouwen talks about the condition of modern man- how he is different than previous generations and how to minister to him effectively. He talks about the hopless man- the man who has no reason to live but does not want to die (I met many people in that predicament in Haiti), and he talks about the lonely minister (whom I can identify with more than is comfortable).

It’s a short and relatively simple book, but it’s profound. The way he simply walks the reader from point to point reminds me a but of CS Lewis’ apologetics, but it’s not nearly so dense.

What I’ve learned is that suffering is part of the human condition. There is no escaping it, but when we embrace our pain- when we look at it and see it as part of what makes us who we are and what makes us available to others and open to God it can be a beautiful thing. Or as Nouwen put it, “… the wound, which causes us to suffer now, will be revealed to us later as the place where God intimated His new creation.” (Conclusion, page 96)

When we become aware that we do not have to escape our pains, but that we can mobilize them into a common search for life, those very pains are transformed from expressions of despair into signs of hope. … A Christian community is therefore a healing community not because wounds are cured and pains are alleviated, but because wounds and pains become openings or occasions for a new vision.

The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen (Page 93-34)

(Side note: I find it really difficult to express myself lately- I can’t quite get the words out right. I suppose this means I am not writing enough? I feel like my brain is dying. Sorry.)

“Blessed are those who mourn.”

Do you ever feel like there is a hole in your heart? And you work so hard to fill it, to seal it off, to heal it. Quiet time, Bible study, friendship, work, hikes, camping, prayer, reading, creativity, coffee… all these things are life giving. Filling. They help, the heal, they close the gap… but then if you turn the wrong way, take a misstep, get too tired, it all spills back out again and you’re left with a gaping, bloody hole in your chest.

And here is the thing about that; the thing about a bleeding heart: “Jesus wept.” “Blessed are those who mourn.” So, it’s not bad. It’s not wrong. … but where is the line between, say, PTSD and godliness?

In this world we see a doctor, get pills and fix our chemical imbalances. (Unless we’re uninsured. In which case, we wait for health care reform.) But what about prayer? What about behavioral changes? I’m all for Western medicine… but I also believe wholeheartedly in the power of a healing and loving God. And I don’t believe our highest calling in life is to be happy. So where does that leave us? Are these things just situational?

We know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him. I love Him, so this will work out ok. I don’t doubt that at all. And I don’t have any sort of health care (thank you, Peet’s Coffee- they dropped me for going to Haiti). This leads me to think that since I can’t see a doctor that I must have to deal with it on a spiritual level. Thing is, though, that I keep feeling like I need help. I am not strong enough, wise enough, or healthy enough to get through this by myself. So who do I count on? And if I do have some kind of post traumatic stress (let’s be real, Haiti was nothing if not traumatic)… well… does God fix that, too?

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

Matthew 5:3-4