A Change Is Gonna Come

Well, it’s that time of year again. The semi-annual writing of the blog post.

I’m finding that following Jesus will take you on a very interesting journey. Dark and winding valleys of sorrow, mountains of bliss, seas of loneliness, waterfalls of joy. You name it, he’ll take you there. It is a journey that is full of agony and wonder. And no matter how ugly it gets (or how ugly I get), he always stays with me. The mystery of all mysteries, it seems.

Exactly one year ago today, I was kneeling on an altar at a church conference in Austin, TX. Heidi Baker had invited anyone who felt called to follow Jesus to the nations of the earth to come up so she could pray for them. Honestly, I wasn’t exactly sure what to do. I loved the nations. I had once wanted go to the bush of Africa, the jungles of Papua New Guinea, the mountains of Central Asia, to see people of every language and culture fall in love with Jesus. It used to burn in my heart. But honestly, it took the back burner when I fell in love with Baton Rouge. God completely changed my life in the six years that I’ve lived in this city and I wanted to stay here. To go up to the altar, I would feel like a fake.

But the still, small, sweet voice of the Holy Spirit reminded me that He was the one who gave me that passion so many years ago, and it certainly wasn’t on His back burner. He gently told me that my dreams for my life with Him had gotten too small and that I needed dream bigger.

Don’t get me wrong, Baton Rouge is THE best city in the cataloged universe. Hands down. And to follow Jesus is absolutely the greatest honor and adventure of your life, no matter where he takes you. But I had dreamed of people all over the world falling in love with Jesus, and somehow I became scared to believe that God would actually use me in that. Next thing I knew, I was up on the altar with the rest of the crazies, wondering what God on earth might do with my little life.

Sometimes it feels like God takes a lifetime to move. This was not the case. I don’t know what on earth she prayed, but three days later I was driving home with Cameroon on my mind. The story of how Cameroon entered the picture is for another time. But over the following weeks, God flooded my life with Scriptures, conversations, events, dreams, all pointing to Cameroon. Before I knew it, I was saying yes to spending the next who-knows-how-many-years of my life with Jesus (and an incredible, passionate, wholehearted, wacky team of people that includes my best friend) in Cameroon.

I don’t feel very brave. Most days I feel crazy. And most days I wonder how on earth this is my life. And some days I’m pretty sure I’m making an enormous mistake. But I’m starting to figure out that when Jesus invites you to go somewhere, you really don’t want to say no. Here’s hoping it really will be worth it.

I’m intending to chronicle this adventure here. I’m also discovering that any story about Jesus is a story worth telling. Even if no one reads all the way to the end. If you did, mad props to you.

Hello My Old Heart

Driving through towns in Haiti, you’ll often see men on the side of the road mixing cement. They will spend hours under the merciless Haitian sun, working at the base of a small mountain of cement powder, pouring it in a bucket, mixing it with water, patting it into bricks, and selling it in the market. I learned from some friends in Haiti that often they add sand to their powder to cut costs. So they send these bricks of sand to the market, where they are bought and used to build houses, schools, hospitals, you name it. And you and I both know that cities built of sand can’t remain when the earth quakes.

God used this little nugget of truth to help me make some sense of the heavy plate of heartbreak that 2013 served me. Long story short, the rug of my life got pulled out from underneath me. It turned my world upside down and left my heart in shambles. (My last post was crafted in the midst of this heartache.) After six months of being as lively as a sad sack of potatoes, God used Haiti’s bricks to let a sliver of light into my hopeless state.

I realized that I had built a lovely house for my heart to keep it safe from the pain of our broken world. (I’m pretty sure everyone does this, but I haven’t met everyone yet, so I’ll just speak for myself on this one.) Unbeknownst to me, this house was made of Haiti’s bricks. Enough cement to look like the real deal, but enough sand to keep it fragile to the elements of life. These bricks come in lots of different colors. Anger, pride, religion, just to name a few. My bricks were a dazzling shade of perfectionism. As long as I never felt, thought, said, or did anything wrong, my house was fine and my heart was safe. My life really worked for me for a long time. Until an earthquake came.

When my life got pulled out from underneath me, my entire house came crumbling down in one fell swoop. In the midst of the pain and confusion, this picture was the only language I had to understand and communicate what was going on. I was sitting in the remains of the living room, flattened walls, broken picture frames and shattered dishes strewn across the floor, heart completely vulnerable and exposed.

For a long time I thought God wanted me to fix my house, and I would just sit there and cry because it was beyond anything I could possibly repair. I begged Jesus to just come and make me whole again. Sitting on the floor in my brokenness, I wondered where on earth he was and what was taking him so long.

Finally, one morning I woke up to discover Jesus on the floor with me. My heart flooded with hope. Finally, he’s here and he is going to rebuild everything and put my life back together. He was there, but he didn’t move a muscle. I was acutely aware of his presence, yet all of the pain and confusion remained. Time went by and still he just sat on the floor with me. With each passing day, my hope turned into restlessness, confusion, and frustration. The whole analogy culminated in a conversation with Jesus that branded my life.

“Jesus, why did you even come here if you aren’t going to do anything to fix this?”

“Hope,” he replied, “I’m determined to prove to you that I don’t have to fix you to love you. And I don’t have to clean a single thing to want to be here with you. But if I never rebuild your life, would you still want Me?”

His question has left me undone to this day.

Our hearts weren’t meant to live in suits of armor. That conversation marked the beginning of a journey of letting God demolish everything that I’m hiding behind that isn’t Him. I’m still very new at this. And it’s been terrifying and devastating and beautiful. It is awful to be so vulnerable to pain. But I’m learning that to let Jesus be my shield, my glory, and the lifter of my head is what it means to be alive.

To be fully seen and wholly known in all my brokenness, and to find myself nonetheless hidden, covered, and wrapped up in the steadfast love of Jesus, has changed me to my core. I think I’m beginning to understand what Jesus meant when he said things like “whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it”. It is painful and exhilarating and wonderful and messy and beautiful. But I can say that it is worth it because Jesus is worth it. Because in the midst of it all, I discovered his faithfulness, his patience, his kindness, his hilarity, his steadfast love, his worthiness.

To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

The Cost.

It’s quite scary when you start to become real.

This may be too dark and twisty and personal for the internet. But so be it. I’m writing this for anyone else who feels as crazy and desperate as I do. But maybe I really am the only one and I’m just doing everything wrong. Please don’t tell me if I am. I’d rather not know if that’s true.

To be made real, you have to face things you always tried to ignore. You have to see things you didn’t want to know existed. You have to accept things you always pretended weren’t really true. And I can’t help but wonder if it’s worth it. The pain and the doubt and the confusion.

It’s scary to discover that the person in the Bible I most identify with isn’t a great hero of the faith. In fact, he is quite the opposite. The rich young ruler. He is the guy that every pastor says not to be like. And yet I’m finding that it’s exactly who I am. Jesus offers him more than he could’ve imagined, but he turned and walked away sad because he just couldn’t let go. Day after day, it seems that this is my story.

I began to realize this horrifying truth last summer. Desperate for the abundant life that Jesus offers and yet too terrified to let go of what is comfortable and familiar. And I felt so powerless to change. So one fine September evening, I asked God to do whatever it took until He was my only treasure. Oh shit.

I must warn you. This is not a pretty prayer. This is not rainbows and butterflies. It’s not like getting a flu shot that just pinches a little and then you get a Hello Kitty bandaid and a lollipop. It’s ferocious and gut-wrenching and bloody and just plain ugly. And you don’t get a Hello Kitty bandaid. I’m not at the pretty part yet, if there even is one. I’ll let you know if I get there.

I guess I can’t say that Jesus didn’t warn me. He did say things like “whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” and “which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” and “any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”

But is this seriously what he was talking about? Surely I’m doing something wrong.

Somewhere in the recesses of my brain, I know that this truly is worth it. That first I have to really see all the ugly in me and discover all that I’m refusing to let go of. But it’s quite heartbreaking to discover that I’m not the wonderful Christian I thought I was. I knew I wasn’t perfect. But I didn’t know it was this bad.

There are days that I just weep because I treat God like crap and yet He is relentlessly kind to me. He has given me things that I longed for but didn’t know how to ask. And He never gets frustrated with me, even though I don’t hold back in telling Him that I hate how He is answering my prayer. But He knows me. And I’m told that if there was a better way, He would do it.

God has torn us, that he may heal us. He has struck us down, and He will bind us up.” (Hosea 6:1)

That’s all I got.

I wish I knew what happened to the rich young ruler after his troubling encounter with Jesus. Did he ever run into Jesus again? Did he ever give up his money in exchange for true Life?

I really hope so.

Zacchaeus

Jesus has been using the story of a wee little man named Zacchaeus (Luke 19) to melt my heart and mold something new in me.

I think sometimes we’re afraid to really share the depths of God’s love because we feel it’s important that people know they don’t deserve it and that He doesn’t approve of their sin. Like, Jesus loves you a lot, but don’t get too crazy!

But I’m pretty sure that deep down Zacchaeus knew he didn’t deserve love. He was a chief tax collector. He was a man who worked for Rome to take money from his people and give it to Rome. Not only that, but Zac sat on a mountain of money because he pocketed a lot of what he took. He was hated. By all means, this man was a complete slimeball. When I think of Zacchaeus, I picture Danny DeVito. I don’t know if Danny’s a slimeball too. But he’s short. I wonder if Zacchaeus was lonely. I wonder if he went home sad because he had all this money but no one wanted him. Until Jesus came to town.

Everyone had heard of Jesus. He was unlike anyone else. He healed, he liberated, and he was kind and generous and everything that Zacchaeus was not. When news spread that Jesus was going to pass through his hometown, it says that he went out into the streets because he was seeking to see who Jesus was. He couldn’t see because the crowds were so big and he was so small, so he ran ahead and climbed a tree to catch a glimpse of the famous Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus, with a heart full of love, stopped at his tree and asked him by name to come down so he could stay at his house! I can’t imagine how Zacchaeus felt when Jesus called his name. The surprise and the joy he felt in being wanted. And not just by anyone, but by the kindest, most joyful, most loving man the world had ever seen. Everyone wanted a piece of Jesus. And Jesus gave himself to this crook.

It didn’t seem to matter to Jesus that Zacchaeus didn’t deserve to be called down from the tree. One encounter with the love of God turned this thief into a generous man. He ended up giving half of his money to the poor, and with the rest he restored fourfold to everyone what he took.

I think of the “worst of the worst” that live here in Baton Rouge. The crooks, the pimps, the failures, the dropouts, the addicts, the losers, the fools. And Jesus wants them all.

We are afraid that if we lavish the love of God on people, they will think somehow they did something to deserve it. But it’s not until the light turns on that we see what is dark and what is light.

I’m discovering that God’s love isn’t some fluffy Hollywood character. It is uncomfortably radical and has the power to change the leper’s spots and melt a heart of stone. And we get to spend an eternity discovering the depths of His heart. He never ceases to change me.

Geaux.

I am an LSU Tiger through and through. Pride rises in my heart at the sight of an LSU bumper sticker. Anyone wearing LSU gear is automatically an ally. I bleed purple and gold.

You might have heard about the ever-increasing tension between LSU and Alabama. I, being the Tiger that I am, have been trained for the past four years to hate all things Crimson. I have many loved ones from back home that love Alabama. I just pretend they don’t.

That said, I help lead worship for the Refuge, a wonderful college ministry at LSU. Refuge Band was invited to lead worship at a retreat for a college ministry at Alabama. Last weekend, we packed all our stuff in a trailer, hopped in a big old Yukon and made the long trek into enemy territory.

As we pulled in to the city, our drummer leaned out the window and belted “GEAUX TIGERS!!!” at the top of his lungs. As much as I don’t like Alabama, I was ashamed. We were those Tigers. Even still, there was crimson everywhere I looked. Clearly I needed to be on guard at all times.

Last weekend, I sang and played piano for a group of college kids that I didn’t know from a school that I’ve been trained to despise. But every wall of division in my heart melted to the floor as I saw their hands raised in worship and their hearts lost in the presence of God.

I got the honor to sit with a few of them and listen to their stories. I soon discovered that I was in a room full of brothers and sisters whose lives have been changed by the same Jesus who turned my own world completely upside down. It was humbling to say the least.

I will never root for Alabama.

But there is an added sweetness to my understanding that I am part of a beautiful story written by a beautiful God, who ransoms hearts from every tribe and nation and tongue and university.

Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and is in all. Put on then as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.
Colossians 3:11-12

Grace and peace

Hope

Anchors Away!

Life is a whirlwind! Literally. Hurricane Isaac decided to sit on Louisiana for what seemed like forever. Pastor Kevin McKee said it wonderfully this morning: “Like a bad guest, it came late and stayed for far too long.”

I’m absolutely overwhelmed by the love of God. I came across something a couple days ago that sank like an anchor deep in my heart:

How precious is Your steadfast love, Oh God
the children of mankind take refuge in Your wings.
They are filled by the abundance of Your house
and You give them drink from the river of Your delights.
For with You is the fountain of life
and by Your light do we see light.

Psalm 36:7-9

This has not ceased to fill my heart with LIFE. That He crafted us to behold His power and glory, to be loved beyond our comprehension every moment of every day. He LOVES to fill us with His delight. His unending, irrevocable, sure love is our life and joy. It sure is fun to learn to walk in it!

Rest assured, God is using everything in your life to root you and build you in His love. (Colossians 2:6-7, Romans 8:28-29). Enjoy being His beloved today.

Grace and peace,
Hope

Twinkle.

I have a stuffed bunny that was given to me on the morning of my third Easter. I remember waking up and discovering the little white fluff ball nestled among the candies and chocolates in my basket. ‘Twas the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

I named him Twinkle.

I snuggled with him at night. I would wrap my arms around him as I fell asleep. He fit perfectly under my chin.

I took him along for show-and-tell in Ms. Anderson’s first grade class.

His arms were tied together with a little string, and my little wrist fit between his arms. So I would wear him as a bracelet and pretend to ice skate with him around the living room. I cried the day the string broke.

Nineteen years later, and he is still mine. His coat is weirdly yellow and matted. His nose was lost in a gruesome dog fight. His left ear is hanging by a thread. But I still love him.

There is nothing about Twinkle that is valuable. He wouldn’t even be worth 25 cents at a garage sale. But I would sell him for nothing less than a billion dollars because he is irreplaceable in my heart.

God doesn’t love us because we are valuable. We are valuable because God loves us. Everything about us flows from that.

Grace and peace,
Hope