Thursday, May 20, 2010

Love Your Neighbor

In March of 2008, I spent a week working in Tucson, AZ, on the US-Mexico (AZ-Sonora) border with a group of students from the Presbyterian & Disciples of Christ Student Center at the University of Florida and an organization in Tucson called Humane Borders, which, among other things, provides water in the desert (see Isaiah 49:10). Our activities included clean-up of an abandoned migrant camp, painting water barrels (this helps keep the water cooler, even under the blistering desert sun), cleaning a storage shack with No More Deaths (another migrant relief organization) just south of the border, and sitting in on a court hearing. It was a really humbling experience all around, seeing how little people have and what they are willing to risk for a better life for their families. In court, there were men who had crossed the border and been caught multiple times but had nothing to go back to and so had nothing to do but try again to cross. (I'm not defending the illegality of their actions, but it's important to understand that these people aren't just doing this because they feel like it; it's a last resort kind of thing. They don't think there are any other options left, and there may not be. So many misconceptions run rampant in everyday American discourse, and so much is overlooked--so many people are overlooked because everyone's too busy with the politics of it.)

[Incidentally, during the trip, I was reading Art Spiegelman's Maus books, which are the story of his parents' experiences in World War II concentration camps and his own coping with that as a child and then as an adult. (They're graphic novels, and I highly recommend them both. You can find them in a one-volume set here.) Anyway, I ended up writing my weekly reflection for that lit class on the parallels between the treatment of Jews as depicted in Maus and the treatment of Mexicans and Central Americans on the border today.]

A while ago, a friend of mine asked what I think about. I told him about Tucson. Since then, I've realized that the real answer to what I think about has less to do with illegal migration specifically and more to do with the general lack of love in our society. We're so focused on doing what's best for ourselves as individuals that we lose sight of the fact that love is necessarily based in community.

(A lot of this is inspired by - and some of it stolen from - the writings of Shane Claiborne in The Irresistible Revolution and Jesus for President. He wrote it a lot better than I can so if you're not satisfied with what's here - and I daresay you won't be - read his books. Read them anyway.)

Biblically, we are called to care for one another. The Lord's Prayer, a prayer I've known since I was seven years old and getting ready to make my first confession, says "Give us this day our daily bread." (Matthew 6:11; emphasis added) It doesn't say "Give me this day my daily bread." It is a request on behalf of the group, for all of us, not just for myself. And yet, we overlook that, it seems. We are so worried about where our next meal is going to come from (or perhaps more accurately, the money for our next vacation) that we forget about our neighbors who are starving. And I don't just mean the people who live next door to me. They're doing just fine. But what about the families who visit the food pantry at my church? When do I think about them except when the pastor's wife announces food pantry pick-up hours or the bulletin asks for donations of egg noodles?

What does this have to do with illegal migration? We met a woman in Arizona, just this side of Mexico, who said we shouldn't put water in the desert because it will encourage "them" (migrants) to come. So what? For the record, the most water is put out in the summer months, but the most migrants come in the early part of the year. It's not a causal relationship. Migrants have been journeying across the desert of the southwest since long before Humane Borders started placing water barrels. If someone is wandering the desert in search of a better life, in search of a way to improve the plight of their family, they should not have to die of thirst in the process. In a truly Christian nation, a nation living after the teachings of Jesus Christ, the one who said that the greatest commandment is to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind" and that the second greatest commandment is to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:36-39), there would be no question of providing water. "When I was thirsty, you gave me to drink."

(This flag marks the location of water barrels. It flies 30 feet in the air, bringing hope to those in search of renewal.)

Living that kind of love would turn upside down the whole way this country functions. Yes, it may be difficult and uncomfortable to change how relate to the world around us, to our neighbors, to ourselves. We can do so much if we choose to follow those two great commandments and stop thinking only of ourselves. We do not live in a vacuum. We do not live or love alone.

Love is patient.
Love is kind.
Love is not jealous.
Love does not brag.
Love is not arrogant.
Love does not act unbecomingly.
Love does not seek its own.
Love is not provoked.
Love does not take into account a wrong suffered.
Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness.
Love rejoices with the truth.
Love bears all things.
Love believes all things.
Love hopes all things.
Love endures all things.
Love never fails.

(from 1 Corinthians 13)

"Currently Homeless"

Near where I live, just a few blocks away, a river flows past a peaceful waterfront park. I used to go there for lunch every day. Probably will today. Last night, I was sprawled by the water on the concrete ledge where boats dock, reading and journaling and breathing in the scent of spring, watching the river rush by (murky and brown but still beautiful). As I scribbled, lost in my thoughts, I could hear a family somewhere behind me, looking at the river. I was only vaguely aware of their approach until I heard, "Look, it's a homeless girl. Hey, look, Jacob, it's a little homeless girl." I looked up. They--three adults and two children--walked nearer, and one said, "Do you mind if we push you in?" (Please, don't.) "Aren't you afraid to sit there?" (Not really. No.) "But she has a cute sweater so she must be 'currently homeless.'" It was the adults who spoke. After a minute or two, they went on their merry way, and I returned to my journal.

This wouldn't have been so disturbing had I known the people. (I think I have friends who might joke about pushing me into the river.) I didn't know them, though, and for all they knew, I could have been a homeless girl. If I were, I think I'd have felt mocked and dehumanized and humiliated. As it was, I felt that way a bit. My journal entry was derailed into a diatribe on this unsettling experience. They were speaking as though I were nothing more than a thing discarded by society, trash worthy only of mockery. As though they somehow were more significant than I by virtue of their having a home, a roof.

I was drawn back to Sonora, Mexico, and the Arizona desert, a place teeming with life but shadowed by death and prejudice and injustice. A place where a man may be stripped of his dignity without understanding why, when he is simply trying to make a better life for his family, and this is the only way he knows how because no one has ever shown him another way. The un-love of it all is infuriating.

Sitting there, writing about their words and the memories they invoked, the clouds that had been receding the whole time I'd been out by the water, slid back behind me entirely, and all I could see was this brilliantly blue sky, lit by the setting sun. Then, all I could think of was the glory of God and his love for us to give us that sky and that sun, to fill us with joy when we are downtrodden by the hurtful words of others. He loves me, and that is bigger than anything else.

"I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness."
Jeremiah 31:3

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Clothe Your Neighbor As Yourself

Check out this movement of love in Christ Jesus:

Be sure to read some of James' journal entries on the "The Tour" tab. It's a really fantastic testimony to God working in someone as he ministers through him.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

On Love and Dating

A little back story: Last November, a friend of mine asked what I wanted to be loved for, and I gave him this long and rambling answer about generosity, but since then, the question has been rolling around in my head. So the other night, I wrote this letter to him. It's kind of in two parts. The first is the real thing I want people to love me for and the second is an explanation of my views on dating (sort of). I'm sharing it here because it's part of this whole stumbling and standing thing.

Something’s been running around in my head almost since you asked last November what it is I want to be loved for, and I finally found the time and words to write it. What I wrote before didn’t really get at what I was trying to say and what I really want to be loved for. The generosity is a part of it, yes, but it grows out of something much more powerful and much more significant than generosity alone (and particularly my own meager human generosity alone). I want people to love me because they see Jesus in me. That’s why I’m so willing to give of myself. What I have is not my own, not time or money or possessions; it all belongs to God. So if I can share Christ with the people who cross my path by sharing of that with which God has blessed me, that I will do.

Not that I am always good at this. I fail constantly at living the love that Christ gave me. My flesh gets in the way, but that’s part of being a flawed human. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) At the same time, God is always calling me back to him, back into the fold. He doesn’t want me to fail; he wants me to stand strong in faithfulness, despite the temptations that may come my way. “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

One of the most difficult parts of following Christ is in dating (or not dating, as it happens). I am just as guilty as anyone else of regarding my constant state of singlehood as a curse, rather than a blessing, especially when it seems like half of my friends are married or engaged or at least dating someone (and I’m sure that’s only multiplied as you get older). Still, a season of singleness provides the time to prepare for marriage, from managing a budget to keeping house to cooking to learning to rely on God rather than a mate for fulfillment. Right now, I’m relishing this time that I have to spend studying the word of God without the responsibilities of a husband and children. I do want those things, but I know that at this point in my life, I’m not ready to make that kind of commitment.

My eyes wander far too much, along with my mind, playing house in my imagination with half a dozen of my guy friends, depending on my mood and the day. Getting married wouldn’t automatically make my eyes stop wandering, wouldn’t reign in my imagination. Sure, I’d have someone on whom to concentrate my romantic fantasies, but what if he didn’t fulfill them? What if he wasn’t the prince charming I’d made him up to be and I got discontent and impatient waiting for him to become that pretend character (which he certainly isn’t going to miraculously become overnight, if at all)? What then? We’re married and that’s it. Or what if his eyes wander and then his feet and I’m at home with the kids while he’s gallivanting all over the place?

A season of singleness creates time to reign in wandering eyes and wandering hearts and wandering feet. It gives us the opportunity to devote ourselves fully to serving God rather than ourselves. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7:32-35, “But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.”

So that’s what’s been running around my head. That’s who I am (or who I am hopefully becoming). I don’t know where you stand with God or what you believe about him or what kind of relationship you have with Jesus Christ, so maybe I sound completely crazy. Maybe I’d sound completely crazy anyway, but that’s a risk that comes with following Christ. Hope this letter finds you well, wherever it finds you.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Wedding Bells!

My dear friend Tara got married this past weekend (March 21) in the most beautiful, God-centered ceremony I have ever attended. I can't even explain how lovely it was. She, of course, was stunning in her gown, and David couldn't take his eyes off her. All of the hymns were sung a cappella in four-part harmony. The minister's message was all about how the marriage relationship should mirror the relationship between Christ and the church. He kept pulling back to the big picture Christ-church and then focusing in on David-Tara, and it really put God at the focus of the day, which is exactly what Tara and David wanted in their wedding.

Also adding to the excitement of this week, I was officially named the manager of the Wheeling Symphony Youth Orchestra and received a pay raise. Hooray! Lots more work, but I'm relishing the busy-ness that has filled this week.

That's all for now because I have to vacate my table at my favorite restaurant to accommodate other guests, and I no longer have Internet at home. I hope you have a blessed weekend!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Second Wind Dreams

My mom, Laurie, works for an organization called Second Wind Dreams, which is dedicated to improving the perspective of aging through innovative educational experiences and their phenomenal dreams program. Last week, she had the opportunity to speak on a local radio show - The Broadcast on WKKX - about the program and some of the local dreams that are in the works. Listeners could call in if they were willing or able to help make a particular dream come true or if they just wanted some more info about the program or organization.

Well, by the end of the radio segment, all four of the dreams that she shared were on their way to coming true. I look forward to seeing them happen in real life. There's nothing like the joy on an elder's face when something he or she has been wishing for comes true. The dreams from the radio show are these:

  • A couple (80 and 85 years old) who used to have season tickets to WVU football but who haven't been able to attend in a while because of health reasons wants to attend the WVU-Pitt game.
  • A World War II vet would like to have his memoir printed and bound for his family.
  • A Steelers fan would like to meet one or more of the members of the Steel Curtain, the 1970's defensive line.
  • A woman would like to meet Dolly Parton. (This lady is a sleeping dreamer. A sleeping dreamer has Alzheimer's disease or dementia and may not be able to communicate the dream verbally, but through information provided by the family, dreamweavers are able to determine what would improve the quality of life of the dreamer. This dreamer has listened to Dolly Parton for many years, and when she is agitated, Dolly's music is what calms her best.)
For more information about the dreams program or any of the educational opportunities offered by Second Wind Dreams, including the groundbreaking Virtual Dementia Tour, visit their website at

Here's a video of a dream come true:

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Happiness Is...

...fellowship with old & new friends and a whole weekend of dancing at ORLX.

This weekend, I was incredibly blessed to be able to spend time with friends and to make some new ones and to deepen existing friendships. Staying with Julie, Hayley, and Janet was a really upbuilding and encouraging experience. We had fantastic conversations and ate delicious food. Since the weekend, Julie and I have been back and forth on facebook, being a blessing to each other. It's been such an encouraging friendship already, and I'm so glad that God has put her in my life. I also got to see Julia, whom I met in Pittsburgh back in November, and Frank and Erin, my hosts from Soflex, and Frank and I danced more than once and not at four in the morning the last night of the exchange (which is what ended up happening at Soflex).

Food-wise, the whole weekend was amazing. Friday, my new buddy Alan made eggs-in-a-basket for breakfast, ziti rigate for lunch, and spaghetti with hilarious sauce for dinner. The sauce was hilarious because the recipe called for a cup of cheap merlot, and Alan went a little overboard with the merlot. So much so you could taste it heavily in the sauce. We all had a good laugh over it. There was Steak 'n' Shake Friday late night and Denny's Saturday and Sunday. Before the dance Sunday, the girls and I had California Pizza Kitchen frozen pizza (barbecue chicken and white), which was quite yummy!

Dance-wise, also amazing. I wish I could dance more up here, and when I finally get around to getting my license, I fully intend to. There are so many dance scenes within driving distance: Cleveland, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Lancaster. Even DC & Philly aren't so far. Anyway, this weekend was really encouraging dance-wise, too. I felt really solid, and I had a great fast dance with Tim during which he helped me with some arm issues I was having and told me I didn't get heavy when the music got fast. (For any non-dancer reading this, that's a good thing - the not getting heavy part.) So yay! There were bunches of other fabulous dances, several with Hurley and a fantastic one with J. I spent a song at Saturday late trading phrases with Don and helped start a solo Charleston jam Sunday at Lake Eola. Solo Charleston is a blast, and I had so much fun rocking out on the stage with a couple of friends. Don told me my solo dancing was looking good. Julie and I danced with a couple of little girls who were just spending the day at the park. They were so much fun.

I saw some old friends for the first time in about a year and renewed those friendships, one of which had gotten kind of awkward because of events a couple of years ago. That also was encouraging to me. There were a few friends I didn't get to see, but there is always next time, and I look forward to reuniting with them when that day arrives. :)

The memorial service for my friend's dad was lovely, and she seems to be doing well, all things considered. A few of her other friends from school were there, including dear David, my favorite duck-calling pastor. Mikel and I had a great drive up to Ocala and back, blasting Glee and Wicked and Dr. Horrible, among other things, and singing along.

Overall, this weekend was such a blessing, and I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to take the trip.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today, I turn 24! It is my favorite facebook love day of the year - all those notifications. However, I wanted to take a moment to wish you a wonderful day as well!

I have a day full of excitement and fun planned and a weekend of dancing (mostly) in Florida to celebrate with friends and family (and friends who feel like family). I have a new apartment, and this afternoon, I get to see my friend Megan, whom I haven't seen since our Footloose cast party last August, to record some voiceover for an audio driving tour. (Hello $35 I wasn't expecting!) All in all, it's looking to be a pretty fabulous birthday.

This weekend, I am staying with my new friend Julie, whom I just met in January, but who is absolutely fantastic and full of grace and compassion and wonderful godly qualities. I will get to see my dear friend Julia from DC. It's been since November that we got to spend time together in person. Of course, there are dozens of other friends with whom I will share amazing dances and conversation and food and fun! Hooray!

It's already been such a blessed year, and I can't wait to see what else is in store. God is truly amazing and has been so faithful to me even when I have not been faithful to Him. I look forward to a year spent in His light and love and sharing Him with those around me.


Friday, February 26, 2010

Rejoicing Always

I wrote a note with this title over on facebook, but it was about a different situation. This week, I am moving into a new apartment, finally moving out of my parents' house almost two years after graduating from college. Next weekend, I am flying to Orlando, FL, to celebrate my birthday by dancing at a fantastic swing dance event: Orlando Lindy Exchange 3. A whole ton of my very favorite people will be there, and I am so excited to be celebrating with them. On top of that, for my actual birthday (Wednesday), I am going out to dinner with my mom and my dear cousin Melanie, who is getting married in August.

It's funny how God works. Last week, I was a bit bummed because it didn't look like I was going to get to go to ORLX. (I know. Some kind of hardship. It was especially a bummer because a trip I had planned to FL for Valentine weekend had been thwarted by the weather. Small potatoes, but I was disappointed.) Flights were expensive, and money is tight because of the move. Well, I ended up being able to find a flight, and then got the truly devastating news that one of my best friends had lost her dad to cancer. The memorial service is the weekend I will be in Orlando so another friend and I are driving up to support Suzy. I am so incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to be there for her and her family. As awful and cliche as it sounds, this turn of events has made me more aware of how quickly life can change and how important it is to make the most of it.

So often, I sit around feeling sorry for myself because I didn't get to take a trip or I am still single (at the ripe old age of 24 - ha!) or people I know are doing so much more exciting things with their lives than I am. Really, I am so blessed, and I really have nothing to complain about. I should be sharing those blessings with everyone I meet.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Lately, my thoughts have been filled with dating/marriage in general and what I'm looking for in a husband, thoughts that have been spurred on by the (maybe) attentions of a handsome gentleman for whom I am harboring more than a bit of affection. In keeping with my tendency to write soul-baring letters to guys of whom I am fond, last weekend, he received a curious bit of my brain. Half of it addressed something we'd discussed earlier in the weekend, and the rest was a ramble on why I wasn't sure I could marry him. (To be clear, he didn't propose and we're not dating, but our conversational topics often veer in the direction of marriage.) I won't tell you exactly what the note said, but here are some thoughts that have been running around in my head since then.

Some of the attitudes that I have long held toward members of the opposite sex have so often caused me only pain. Thinking that for some reason I have some claim on a guy is absolutely ridiculous, especially when he doesn't share the feelings that I have toward him. Assuming that just because I like someone that he will like me back leads to all kinds of nastiness. Firstly, if he likes someone else, there's tension. If someone else likes him, there's tension. That tension breeds jealousy and prevents meaningful friendships from forming between people who otherwise might be close friends.

What has happened to me often enough that I should have learned my lesson by now (and apparently am finally coming around to it) is that I derive my self-worth in that particular season of life from the attention of whatever guy I'm chasing. This method of valuing myself necessarily leads to discontentment. No other human being is ever going to love me so consistently and so thoroughly that I can have a positive self-image all the time just because he loves me. The only relationship I have that works that way is with God. He loves me despite my failings, and He is faithful even when I am not. I am a daughter of the King of kings, beloved of Him and an heir with His Son Jesus Christ. Therein lies my identity. Not in what some guy thinks of me.

This leads me to the idea that if my identity truly lies in Christ and I am embracing that idea and being satisfied and fulfilled in it, then the man who is to be my husband, the man God ordained for that purpose, will naturally be attracted to me because of that quality of my life. I hope to marry a man who loves God more than he loves me, who is seeking to live a life that is glorifying to God. Such a man would be seeking a godly wife, and that is what I hope someday to be. (This has not been running around my head with the other thoughts. It just came up, and I figured I might as well include it.)

Satan, of course, does not want me to be satisfied with the love of God. He wants me to keep running after other things. So he gets inside my head and tells me that it will feel so good to have that guy in my life, to have him paying attention to me, to be the girl on his arm. While all of this may be true in the fleshly sense (and from my general experience, this holds true), when I am no longer that girl, when he has another girl in his arms, it doesn't feel so good anymore and I'm back where I started wondering why on earth anyone would want to be with me if he doesn't and thinking I'm not good enough to get a guy as amazing as that one. HA! Again, this goes back to the identity in Christ thing. My value as a human does not lie in the fact that a guy likes me enough to date me or dance with me. It lies in the fact that God loves me so much that He sacrificed His own Son so that I could know Him.

To Satan, I speak the truth of the love of my great big God. I am worthy. I am loved. I am beautiful.

Yes, I know this is so much easier said than done. Trust me, I'm living it right now. I am so blessed, though, to have friends praying for me and building me up in the truth that is Christ Jesus, friends who prayed over me for the weekend, that I would enjoy the whole event and not spend the whole time wishing he would look at me (those prayers were answered by the way, thanks to an incredibly faithful God), friends who know my heart and know what I desire but who also know that my plans are not necessarily the same as God's plans and who provide godly, biblical wisdom, encouraging me but also reminding me to live in reality and not in the fantasy inside my head. For these friends, I am so thankful.

At the end of the note, I told him I wasn't expecting an answer so he didn't have to feel like he had to call or write. Still, whenever the phone rings or I have a facebook message, my heart jumps (along with my stomach), thinking it might be him. It hasn't been him yet and it may never be, but that's okay. I continue on in my prayers for contentment, my prayer for a godly husband (if that is God's will for me), and I am constantly seeking to grow more like Christ in my daily walk with Him. It's a tough road, but "tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope." (Romans 5:3-4) Maybe this isn't much as far as tribulation goes, but it is still an opportunity to grow, and for that, I am grateful.

"But as for me, I will watch expectantly for the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me." Micah 7:7