Apr 30, 2012

Dinner Guests

"Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." James 1:27 (KJV, Sam's favorite version)

The academic in me knows yesterday could have done with a fair bit more studying.

But I don't always listen to the academic.

After spending several hours in belated birthday celebration (which included romping around town in a blindfold, treasure hunting, convenience store shopping, and a water gun fight), I got a couple good hours of studying done. And then it was off to the church.

Last week a friend of mine had asked if I would help with a dinner being held to honor a number of nursing home residents and elderly church members. She was hard pressed for volunteers and was sounding rather desperate. Deciding to push midterms to the back of my mind, I agreed. And so I showed up at the fellowship hall at 5, ready to cook or help serve food. After hearing the first 30 seconds of waiter instructions, though, I was asked what I was doing in the kitchen. Before I could reply, I was ushered out of the group of waiters and waitresses, and I was given the instruction to be one of the several students to mingle.

"Wait, so you just want me to sit and talk to people?"

"Yep. Enjoy the food while you're at it."

No one wanted to volunteer for this? I was shocked at my good fortune. This wasn't "helping with a dinner." This was free food and great conversation!

I ended up sitting across from a couple who had been married for 52 years, most of those years being spent overseas working as medical missionaries. Naturally, this made me doubly excited. We spent the evening talking about missions and what it means to truly be a missionary. They told me stories of crazy medical miracles and experiences with cultural adjustments. They started naming off all the countries they'd lived in: I lost count around 7.

At one point I asked the wife, Effie, if she had always planned on being a missionary. She said that for the majority of her life, she had known she'd live abroad. "But my problem was," Effie said in her thin voice, leaning in as if to share a secret, "that I couldn't find any men who wanted to leave the country. All the boys in college wanted to settle down in the states, and whenever they'd try to pursue me, I just had to tell them no."

So this is me in 55 years, I thought to myself.

"Until this guy came along," she continued, putting her hand on her husband's shoulder. A beautiful smile spread across her face.

I had told them my history with missions and my hopes for continuing such work in the future. They queried me on my majors and asked about my plans for the future. At one point I turned to the Sam, the husband, and asked him what he considered the most important advice he could give to an aspiring missionary. He replied almost immediately. "Learn how to be nice." I smiled at this and nodded for him to continue.

"You don't have to always be right; that won't get you far. But if you can be nice and give up always being right, then you really form relationships with the people. And really, that's what matters."

I told him that seemed like some very sound advice. We both ate a few more bites in silence before Sam added to his last statement by quoting from James 1:27. "This is true religion, true faith," he declared. "Looking after those who need help. If you see that someone is hungry, you feed them. If you see someone who's thirsty, you give them something to drink. If they have nowhere to stay, you open up your home to them. Really seeing the needs of others and responding to them; stepping out of your comfort zone to make others more comfortable. That's what it's all about."

"That's right," I replied, a contemplative smile undoubtedly playing across my lips.

At some point the dinner ended, and before we knew it, we were the last ones there. It was time to leave. As I hugged Effie, she told me she hoped she could see me again in 5 years to see where God had brought me in life. I agreed with that hope. After saying goodbye to the two of them, I stopped in the kitchen to say goodbye to the other volunteers. "Hey, thanks for inviting me," I told them. "I would have been fine working in here, but I'm really glad you needed me out there."

"Well, we needed someone like you out there," one of them said. "We had plenty of cooks and waiters come, but we really needed some people who could connect with the guests."

As I headed back to the dorm to continue studying, I considered again the person God has made me to be, the passions and gifts He's given me. And I re-remembered how much I love serving within my gifts, and how much of a blessing it always is to me as well. I think Sam nailed it: relationship is what this whole concept of service is all about. Being nice. Loving people.

And I think Effie was on to something, too: God's got some beautiful plans for my future of loving people. Like her, I'm excited to see me in 5 years and discover what God has done with and through my life. I've got a good feeling about it.

Apr 24, 2012

Life is Lived in the Lightning

"Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot.  Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God." Ecclesiastes 5:18,19

[written the night before my 21st birthday]

I'm sitting and watching indescribable lightning light up the sky. Wind and rain rails against the window. This is the second night, now, that we have had a lightning storm. Last night it was warm and dry, and I sat out in a grassy field and watched the long streaks spread out over my head. There's something about these flashes of light that makes my heart ache: it is so beautiful and so magnificent, nature in its utter brilliance. Fireworks from the heavens. I could sit and watch it until the darkness of night brightens into dawn.  

Last night, as I sat and marveled at the sky, I thought back to the last time I saw a real lightning storm. I could pinpoint it exactly: 360 days ago. We were in Manila, just a few days from departing the Philippines. Most of the goodbyes had already been said. That night, Rainey, Cliff, and I found ourselves outside the Mall of Asia, sitting on the concrete slab, the barrier between the mall and the bay. We sat and watched the arms of lightning reach out over the waters, again, and again, and again. I think we joked around a little, but the mood was somber. A bittersweet feeling. A sense of disbelief. Could those months really have gone by so fast?

And now I sit and watch the lightning again, and I think back to that night from almost a year ago. Can it really have already been a year? 

For my birthday last year, I woke up early and went down to the beach to reflect on life and talk with God. I'd had a wild year upon which to reflect: first time counseling, sickness, surgery, ministry experiences, deaths, sad truths, friendships, leadership roles…I felt beyond my years in many ways. (memory jog)

And so now, as I sit and watch the sky make drastic changes from dark to light and back again, I am of course finding myself reflecting over this last year. What have I gained? What have I accomplished? More than I think I initially see. 

I've officially changed my plans for the future. I've returned as an experienced, passionate, and enthusiastic counselor, and I got to see one of my kids get baptized. I've faced some more deaths and hard truths. I've made a number very wonderful friendships. I've had the honor to meet some of Portland's homeless residents. I've spoken truth and love into the lives of others. I've pursued knowledge beyond the classroom and have learned much. I have played, I have worked, I have served, and I have led. I've lived.

21. Really? Wasn't I just 17? I'm finding these years a lot like lightning: bright and magnificent and far-reaching. And brief. 

Since each year keeps flashing by, I'm making sure each day is lived to its fullest. It sounds cliché. It is cliché. But it's a cliché I want to hold on to. Day dawns full of possibility and opportunity. I want to make use of all opportunities possible.

So that when I turn 22, I'll sit on a mountain or stand in a hurricane and remember that last year

                            I LIVED.

Apr 21, 2012


"Give me your eyes for just one minute. Give me your eyes so I can see everything I keep on missing. Give me your love for humanity." --Brandon Heath

While walking on the sidewalk, making the trek from the ad. building to the cafeteria or any other point A to point B, I'll often find myself keeping track of some quick statistics. I'll walk passed a guy with a black backpack, and I'll tick off an avoided eye contact. Girl on her way to the gym, eyes meet and brief smile shared. Girl in a skirt hurrying to her class across campus, no eye contact. Guy I've been approaching for at least 15 seconds now, that awkward glance at each other at different times before just looking straight ahead.

I think eyes are pretty phenomenal in communication. While walking the streets of Pagudpud, looking and smiling at each individual as they looked and smiled at me, I felt like we were all enjoying each other's company, if only for a moment. There's this moment of connection, of acknowledging one another's existence and contribution to the world. You're not a tree or a building or a littered plastic bottle that I'm walking passed: you're a person, and I acknowledge this by seeing you, by taking a moment to focus my attention on you.

That's why we look at people when they're speaking, right? We want to focus our attention (or sometimes just appear to focus our attention) on them. This is considered a way to show that we're valuing their words, thoughts, and feelings.

There's something beyond this, though. We can look, but it is another matter to see. Jesus talked about this seeing beyond the surface. "Do you have eyes but fail to see, ears but fail to hear?" (Mark 8:18) Often times there is so much more going on to see, but we don't see, simply because our focus is not really on the other person. They may be talking, I may be looking, but I'm imagining what I'll say next or what I still have to get done today. But being fully present to truly see people where they're at: that's tremendous. I've had the joy of fully seeing people lately, and it really is incredible. It brings connection. It allows words to be exchanged that only eyes can exchange. And it leads us to a better understanding of those around us.

Whoever came up with the idea that "eyes are the windows to the soul" was quite clever.  Our eyes give us away. They reveal who we really are, what we're honestly feeling. I've been told that my eyes smile before my mouth decides to get around to it. Someone can sound brave as they face catastrophe, but I think often the eyes betray inner uncertainty. A plastered smile can't hide a tear-up. Usually. They can hide all this perfectly well, actually--if no one is even looking.

Which brings me back to my tally of eye contact. If we don't look at people, we can't see people. If we can't see people, I think we lack a full relationship. We stay caught in our own world, behind our own eyes.

I like seeing people, understanding people, knowing people, connecting with people. So I'm going to look you in the eye. I won't stare you down as you walk passed me on your way to the library. But when we stop and we talk and I listen, I will see you. I will see you because I value you and I think you're worth seeing. What I see when I look in your eyes is something too beautiful to miss.

Time to open our eyes and see what we've been missing.

Apr 12, 2012

This Isn't Over!

Ok, I'm back.

That little blurb in November was a sign. I "stopped" blogging when I returned from the Philippines last spring because, well, I was back in the mundane lifestyle filled with events that are unnecessary to chronicle. Right? No need to continue this. There's nothing exciting happening in my life, nothing worth sharing with the general populace, or at least the handful of people who know this blog exists.

But then I found myself in November publishing a post that demonstrated no exciting event in my life. Just me, processing. Why did I do that?

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately, and when I think, it helps me to write out my thought process and the conclusions that crop up along the way. And when I know there is a possibility that someone else can see what I've written, I'm held accountable to my thoughts and I (sometimes) receive feedback and new insight from others. Also, perhaps the biggest of my reasons, I know I need to write to fully acknowledge and work out the thoughts that are residing in my head, and having outside influence to keep me committed to writing on a regular basis is quite helpful. That's where the blog comes into play. Your existence and the knowledge of the possibility that you might read this help me to continue processing life well. Thank you.

So after several months of occasionally remembering to consider starting up writing again, I'm back. And why now? I've recently arrived at a new perspective on this time in my life. Upon returning to Walla Walla last fall, I picked up the concept of the next three years resembling a holding cell. Yes, I would learn valuable information along the way, but essentially it would just be the last stage before the REAL stuff started happening. Work through three years of school, and then enter into the adventure. 

Not a good perspective.

I've got to stop putting my life into segments. Now is part of next. The more I engage in life and plans and preparations and work and growth now means that I will not only experience a more fulfilled time in college, but I will also be assisting my future self to be even more the person I want to be.

So what does this look like? I've started to learn French (beyond the high school classes). I've begun looking into internships, grad school programs, and mission and humanitarian organizations. I've begun to cut down on noise and increase my reflection and God time. I've resumed writing. I'm letting myself think and feel and listen more.

So, I'm back. You don't have to read my posts. But the point of the matter is that they will be coming, available for you to enjoy or disregard. This is my life right now, and I'm going to continue to ponder it.