Monday, August 3, 2015

A Simple Realization

I was sipping my coffee this morning when a realization struck me: all of the unknowns from this past year became known this week. Once we got to China everything felt a bit out of control. So, I quickly set to work, without even a pause, at taking control. It's what I'm best at doing. Control. I made lists (and sub-lists). I scrubbed floors. I stocked pantries. I took everything uncomfortable and molded, forced, and dissected it until the unfamiliar became the familiar and comfortable new norm. On one hand, this is good: I was settling in to begin life here in China. I was creating a restful space for Nick and I in the midst of an entire city of chaotic newness. Yet, where was God? I was busy taking control; I controlled him right out of the room. All the things that grew and stretched me this past year--all the unknowns, the sacrifices, the stresses, and the struggles that brought us to our knees in prayer--I was eliminating them one by one. I took the unknowns and made lists out of them. I began recreating and replacing the material sacrifices we had made. The stresses were being swept into check, and the struggles dealt with in an orderly fashion. After all the growing and trusting I had been forced to do this past year, I went right back to old Rachel: take control, power through, finish, accomplish, and perfect. The battle cry of my humanity. The very cry that deafens my ears to the sweet voice of the spirit. The cry that thunders through people and leaves them wondering what just happened.

I felt I had changed so much, but I'm still the same. I thought I was going to be different when I got to China. I thought I was going to see the fruit of all this growth and change. I held this assumption, one I didn't even realize I had until now, that I would see the result of all of my hard work and struggle when I got to China. No matter what culture I wrap myself in my heart and will are still the same. I'm still the same sinful and somewhat controlling human I have always struggled against. The only thing that has changed is my increased awareness of my own sin and struggle. I'm quicker to realize my weakness. Perhaps that is the change. This realization that I jumped out of the refining fire too quickly, thinking that I was done, but I'm still too rare to be of any good. This is the root of a growing humility. I have to hit the hard ground and recognize that, yet again, I need to turn around and get back into the fires of change. The very idea, no matter how hot the fire burns, I still come out unrefined, rough gold. Am I so dirty that it takes a lifetime of fires to see any beauty? Yes. And I'm learning to thank God for it. I don't want to be beautiful if all people will see is me. But, when I'm in the fire people are looking at what the creator is creating. This draws attention to the kindness, love, and forgiveness of the maker. The creator is far better than I. So this is what I'm learning, nothing showy or flashy, just the simple and painful recognition that I have a lot of growing and changing ahead of me on this earth. I would rather be constantly forged and grown and give glory to the one who made me than to be beautiful, finished, and empty.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Break Me Again

I am God's creation. Created lesser than he that I may bring him greater glory. As Jeremiah states, God is the Potter and I am his clay. He has created, molded and formed me to uniquely show forth the glory of the Potter; who he is, and his greatness.
But, I am broken.
Broken because others have treated me carelessly. Broken, further, because I have not listened to the admonitions and discipline of the Potter. In my brokenness I came to the Potter with my pieces, begging forgiveness, and begging for him to fix me.
For years I have been pained by the scars and cracks forged in my brokenness. Pained because of how they have marred the Potter's beautiful creation and made it ugly. Pained more at the worthlessness of a broken pot. A pot, created to hold liquid, shouldn't leak. With my broken cracks and scars I am unable to fulfill the purpose for which I was created.
I am too broken to have value.
Then one day, when my brokenness was too much for my soul to bear, I realized I misunderstood my purpose. I was not created to hold the life-giving water of the Potter and hoard it, but to share that water with others. If this is true, then my brokenness is no longer a hindrance, but my cracks are transformed into an advantage. Being so fragile and cracked I am unable to prevent myself from pouring forth the Potter's life-giving water. Water gushes out all over! A bit messy, perhaps, but not hidden. The more water poured into me, the more spills out. Till one day, I pray, so much water is poured into me that my pot will shatter and all that will remain is a waterfall of life-giving water; uncontrollable and majestic! 
If my brokenness can bring about this, then please God, break me again.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Parable for the Lonely

Among the beautiful plantations and luscious forests sits a lone, forgotten field. A plot of land called Lonely. Its waste and barrenness contrasts its beautiful counterparts. Pain is etched into the depths of its soil. Brambles of Sorrow and nettles of Suffering thrive, choking out light. Unattended and untouched for years Lonely sits. Its surface ravaged by the wind; rotting in its own abandonment. Passed over, forgotten--the existence of Lonely. I once heard a rumor about Lonely: In its depths, through the brambles of Sorrow, passed the sting of the nettles of Suffering, if you dig through the soil of Pain, deep in the depths of Lonely, lies a treasure called Value.

I sold my soul to buy Lonely. I gave up my life and my possessions for Lonely, Pain, Suffering, and Sorrow. I sold my soul to find Value. To crawl across this wasteland, to search through Pain, I reach the treasure. Unhindered by shallow, unfulfilling beauty to obtain value-to find life. Not the life I sold, but a new one. A life of joy and fulfillment, watered and grown through the bloodshed by Christ. For in the center of certain death, in the middle of Lonely, buried in the depths of Pain is joy. Life is given. So as I crawl and dig devoid of petty, distracting obstacles, I sing. Praises to my treasure ring from my lips. For what is pain when in it exists my treasure? What is loneliness when I find my treasure in its midst? If I owned not Lonely and purchased not Pain I would not find my treasure. Perhaps others have sold their souls for more beautiful fields, but the beauty will eventually fade into emptiness. Beauty alone does not hold the treasure of Value. Value is found and fostered in the harsh conditions of Lonely, and for the gift of Lonely I will evermore be filled with joy.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What if church were more like a coffee house?

As I sit here in a coffee house, a common occurrence in my life, the sweet aroma of coffee creeps into my thoughts. This smell always fills me with a sense of comfort. No matter the strangeness of my surroundings this nostalgic smell serves as a reminder that there is some consistency in life. Memories pour in and out of my mind. Memories of meaningful conversations. There were honest, vulnerable, and deep conversations when life was tough and I needed a listening ear. As well as humorous conversations filled with outpourings and expressions of life's beauty. Coffee, and thus coffee houses, brings together a rather odd assortment of people. A community of strange, mismatched people gathered in one place in search of fulfilling a similar want or need. Coffee, as simple as it may be, reminds me that no matter life's pain and difficulties there is support. Life will be okay.
Now, transfer this concept to the common, everyday American church. These days I sit in church and I wonder, why? Why does church not evoke the same concepts as a coffee house. Where is the sense of community found at a coffee house? Why do people enter a church and feel isolated and alone? Why do people sit and squirm as if forced to attend, only to split out the doors the minute the sermon has ended? Yet, people flock to coffee houses all across the country. What is wrong with this picture?
If this is what church is like why do we even go? We show up. We go through the motions. We greet one another; often with awkward handshakes and reluctancy. Sit through another mediocre and dispassionate sermon; genuine heartfelt sermons seem few and far between anymore. Then we go home. Arriving home with neither a better understanding of God nor a restful, authentic experience of community. Instead it is as if we can check off yet another obligation on our inconvenient to-do lists. When did we begin to view church as an obligation? When did church become nothing more than a staple of being a good, moral American citizen? Church is no longer about a striving to learn more about who God is together as a community. A place where to be vulnerable is to be human and it is okay to be imperfect. Where expressions of pain, hurt, and frustration are accepted with grace, not shunned as unimportant or evidences of a lack of faith. This is the community I crave. This is the community the world needs to witness; not pristine examples of perfect people, but real people. The church is not perfect. It never will be. So, why are we so afraid to show the world what they already know we are? Perhaps if we are a little more honest with ourselves and our desperate need for God then church would become more than traditions and awkward social situations but a vital part of life.
What if church were more like a coffee house? Not in the sense that church is advertising and selling a product to the public, but in the way we present ourselves. Just maybe a coffee house mentality, a community oriented mindset, is what it will take to reach a generation of lost, unloved misfits. What would it take for the church to focus more on the community and less on the color of carpet being installed in the atrium? What is required for us make those outside our walls feel important? They should not have to commit to buy anything or be present a certain number of Sundays for us to make them feel important and validate their frustrations in life. This type of behavior should be a natural outpouring of our desire to be like Christ. So, why shouldn't the church be more like a coffee house?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Coffee Houses are Sacred

Imagine a room filled with mismatched, well-worn furniture of all shapes and sizes. The smell of freshly roasted coffee permeates the air as people, as diverse and mismatched as the furniture, fill its entirety. People bound by mutual drink tastes and mutual understandings. On one side of the room sits a lone stranger, reading furiously. She looks over the rim of her coffee mug only to catch the eye of another perfect stranger across the room; a warm smile, a nod, and a raise of a mug establishes friendship. Nothing is known of previous life choices and personal beliefs, yet the simple act of a smile lends to an air of old friends; an understanding that had their paths crossed before they surely might have been the closest of friends. Towards the front of the room, where the brewed coffee stands, people mill about discussing choices and options as if they have known each other for years. A table in the back of the room is rocked with the opinions of a heated conversation about life, politics, and even Ingrid Michaelson. A couch to its right contains the remains of one girl's prized laptop, left unattended as she crosses the room to converse with a new arrival.
Where else exists a place of such mutual respect for other's choices, beliefs, and even one another's belongings? A place where people do not check their individuality at the door. For some inexplicable reason they enter with an easy acceptance of each person's quirks and individual expression. Where else but in a coffee house? Are these the new religious institutions of the twenty-first century? Coffee Houses: today's hub of diversity and culture. Fortunately for us, they are located on nearly every corner.