I am sitting in a green cushioned chair with white metal arms in J. A Douglas McCurdy Airport. Exactly five seats to the left of me is where I sat nearly a year ago. I was journaling then, too. Hot tears dripping down my cheeks. The exciting, terrifying fear of the unknown had stretched before me and it made me want to run back to my mom. To my house. To my room. To the familiar.
Instead I sat. One arm rested in the white metal arms of the chair... One hand scribbling in my journal, putting down all my emotions. I can't remember what I wrote. I am sure I could find it if I looked back through the stack of old journals piled on top of my bookshelf.
But I remember what I felt. I remember being absolutely terrified. I remember earnestly questioning the near $4,000 spent on various plane tickets. I remember the Hail Mary type prayer I threw in the air as I ran my thumb over the plane tickets in my hand.
This is all for You, God. So please show up for me. Please carry me through. Please be here. Make something of the next 8 months. Take my hands and take my all, just show up. Please don't leave me. Please, oh please, Lord, don't leave me. Don't abandon me as I abandon it all for You.
I think I must have repeated that prayer, or a very similar one, dozens of times.
But I remember sitting in those chairs, looking like a crazy person and pleading with God for all of it to be real. For all of it to mean something. My faith was unwavering in the fact that this is what He had for me. My faith was shaking in the fact that He would actually show up.
I was looking for Him, you see. I was searching for Him and waiting for Him to show up in some big and overwhelming way. I wanted Him to show up for me in the same measure that I felt I was showing up for Him. So, on all 25 flights I took over the course of those 8 months, I prayed the same sort of prayer.
Just show up.
Only now, only today, only in this very moment, sitting just five chairs from where this whole trek began do I finally see that He did. He did show up.
Not in the ways I expected, of course- I mean, does He ever work like we expect? And looking back, no, I cannot see His hand in everything. I don't know if I'll ever be clear on where He was in the nights I cried myself to sleep and sobbed into my pillow about poverty and orphans. I will forever remain unclear about where He was when my 51 kindergarteners were jumping on desks and eating each other's notebooks, when He could have struck them with a lightning bolt of terror and obedience.
But I can say this, undoubtedly. I can say that as I sit here once again, tears brimming in my eyes, I can see Him. Maybe not clearly, maybe not in every moment or in the darkest of nights. But I can see that He showed up. Because I am here. I am living and breathing. I am back with family. I am okay. And for me to be here, He must have been there. In those countries. On those lonely nights. In the questions I asked and the toddlers I taught. If I am standing and living and breathing, He must have showed up. He must have carried me. Because there is NO chance that I could have possibly, possibly survived it all on my own. There is no way I could even survive a single day in this world alone. So He must have been there and He must be here now, even in moments of doubting. Even when I don't understand.
I am so bad at representing my Saviour most days. But let this fact alone stand- I cannot even breathe without Him. And neither can you. He holds our very lives in His hands.
So when you can't see Him and you don't understand, be assured of this- if you are living and breathing, He is still there.
He is still here, beloved.
January 16th, 2016
THE RACE IS WORTH IT
That's what we Christians don't say often enough, I think. It's what I don't say often enough.
Not long after I became a Christian, there was this period of time I had where I told everyone about what a sacrifice it was to follow Jesus. I had just learned what the word 'martyr' meant and instead of turning me away from The Lord, it lit a mini fire inside my soul. I started talking about it. A lot. I'd say things like, "Did you know if you follow Jesus, you could get killed for it? For your faith?" People would laugh awkwardly. "There's lots of things you have to give up when you get born again." What? Get born again, Annika? I don't even think that's proper terminology. Good job evangelizing, kid.
For that period of time, I was so set on stressing sacrifice to people. It was the only part of Christianity I talked about. It made my parents think I was an absolute lunatic and totally turned them away from my Saviour.
The author of Hebrews puts the life of a Christian as 'running a race'. It starts when you give your life to Jesus and ends when you take your last breath on this earth. The day you become a Christian, your race begins. My 15 year old self preached that you better get some good running shoes or don't even bother setting foot on the track. I was fine with scaring people. Like, hello, explain what the word martyr means to a 15 year old girl and talk her through upside down crucifixions. Yikes.
As [embarrassing] as it is to think about that time, and as hard as it is to think about the people I may have frightened, I think I was kind of on to something. By no means do I think we should EVER preach and carry around this tiny, fluffy gospel. Like, Jesus loves me and everything will always be perfect and He'll give you everything you want and you'll have a carefree life. Yeah, Jesus DOES love you. Jesus DOES take away pain. But come on people, you still live on a broken planet called earth and your race WILL bang you up. You do have to sacrifice. You do give stuff up. It will be painful. But you know what?
THE RACE IS WORTH IT
BECAUSE HE IS WORTH IT
That's the part I was missing.
He. Is. Worth. It.
I don't think we should ever deny sacrifice or speak in a light way about The Lord. But when I was 15 I talked about Jesus like an commander in an army. I was nearly attacking people... throwing myself at them in the name of The Lord. In my 3 and a half years of being a Christian, I have learned a lot [don't worry, I know I haven't learned everything]. The most important thing I've been taught? It's all about Jesus. All of it. It's all about Him. Nothing will matter when you get to the gates of heaven and stand before God except one thing- what did you do with Jesus Christ while you were on earth? What did you do with Him? Did you believe in Him? Did you seek Him? Did you love Him? Was He the apple of your eye?
Instead of launching myself at people and explaining the word martyr, I think maybe I should have just focused on Christ. Maybe I should have shut up about upside down crucifixions and talked about the best person ever. Because now, 3 and a half years later, I think I finally get it: Jesus. I think I finally get that it's all about Him. I think I finally, finally, finally get that He is faithful and loving and good and just and righteous and holy. I think I finally get Him a bit more. And grasping Jesus, grasping that a perfect God would come and live and breathe and die for His people... Grasping who He is makes me love Him. Grasping the cross makes me run this race faster and harder and better.
Amen to the writer of Hebrews- following Jesus is like running a race. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes your muscles ache. Sometimes you need to stop and rest. Sometimes the path is painful. Sometimes it's clear. But if you will just turn your eyes to Him- if you'll just fix your eyes on a wooden cross made 2,000 years ago, you'll learn something. And when you learn it, you'll willingly sacrifice stuff. You'll willingly give stuff up. You'll gladly be persecuted for His name. What will you learn that will radically change your life?
THE RACE IS WORTH IT
It's the first thing that came to my mind when I sat down on this uncomfortable floor of the airport with my back against the wall and headphones in my ears. I am so overwhelmed. I am so overcome, right now.
In the past 11 days, I have left my South American home, said good bye to 26 kids, travelled around Peru, hiked Machu Picchu, met new people, stayed in new places, took 3 planes (threw up a lot on one of them), stayed up for 42 hours straight, spent 45 hours in Toronto, did my first 10km run on Canadian soil, lived out of a suit case, messed up my sleeping schedule, got too many nosebleeds, took a plane to Washington, spent three days there, said good bye to someone I never want to say good bye to, cried in the airport alone, took a flight back to Toronto, stayed in a hotel, caught 5 hours of sleep, went to the airport... went to the wrong airport. Took a taxi to the right one with the most ridiculous layout you can ever, ever imagine. Spent money I didn't have. Lost cash. Lost my phone. Found my phone. Threw up again. Bought some vitamin water. And now I'm here. That's what brings me to this big word- "overwhelmed". It's an understatement at the moment, probably.
Maybe you're kind of thinking that I have every right to be exasperated and overwhelmed, here. I mean, like, come on. That is a whole lot to endure in 11 days. I wanna sit down with some cheesecake [it's been 3.5 months without cheesecake] and coffee and sweats and netflix. But I am still four hours from my province and 2 more sets of uncomfortable plane ride seats from my sister. And as much as I want to give in and go buy some M&M's [ok, confession, I did end up buying the M&M's] and maybe just sit here and cry a little [confession #2: I did cry earlier when I realized my sister booked me a connecting flight at the wrong airport], I won't.
I am not against some good ice cream and chick flicks and a little relaxing me-time. Taking care of yourself is real and though I am all about being extravagant and bold, sometimes I forget to tell you that the mundane, self-care stuff really REALLY matters. But I'm thinking of that hall of faith thing in Hebrews 11. Where the scriptures talk about all of the great people of faith who have loved and wholeheartedly trusted in God. It starts off with Moses. And Moses, if you know the dude, messed up a lot. Like so bad he didn't even make it into the Promise Land. Sometimes he got frustrated and stopped truting God and one time he totally didn't listen and hit a rock with a stick and it all went down hill (you can check out that story for yourself in Numbers if you want).
And right about now you may be thinking like, what does Moses hitting a rock and my insane 11 days have to do with each other? Nothing really. But the writer of Hebrews (and the real author of all- God) counted Moses into that hall of faith despite all of his mess ups. In fact, the author doesn't even mention the mistakes and screw ups that Moses made. He [they?] just skips over it. Like even though there was a bunch of embarrassing and awkward bad stuff, it isn't even spoken of. Only the good stuff is written down and has been kept for centuries.
On the pages of Hebrews, Moses's full out love and devotion and good, shinning, bold and brave moments are penned. Forget the icky past. In the grand scheme of things, the great stuff stood out more.
And maybe sometimes that's just how we need to look at life. Maybe we just need to shut up about all the mistakes and wrong airports and lost money and missing cell phones and pukey bathrooms and just take a breath and be thankful that we're living and breathing.
We are living and breathing.
You are living and breathing.
Here's what I didn't write at the beginning of my little rant:
I got the chance to go to Peru. A new continent and a new country for me. I got to love on 26 kids. I learned a new language, learned how to farm and fell in love with running. I petted an alpaca, hiked around one of the wonders of the world and lived in the Andes mountains. I took three totally safe flights despite my uneasy stomach. I made 3 new friends on plane rides alone. I got to share the gospel with people. I got to pray for someone. Someone prayed for me. I went 42 hours without sleep but ended up in a really comfortable bed at my friends house which was clean and safe. I got to visit my friend and his family who are some of the kindest, most hospitable people in this world. My friend made me coffee and smoothies and we hunkered down and talked about bravery and dreams together. I came back to Canada. I got to go to the United States. I got challenged good and hard and beautifully. I got to visit the smartest man I've ever met. I learned about air planes and got to see the fastest one in the world. Ever. I had a hotel to stay in and snacks to eat and netflix to watch this morning. I felt my bible in my fingertips when I woke up. I got to tell my taxi driver about Jesus even though he thought I was crazy. I'm wearing my favourite flannel shirt [which does not match my outfit but who cares? I am rocking this look]. And I am just four measly hours from my family. Four. Hours. After three point five months of loneliness and new beginnings and struggles, only 240 minutes separate me from my family. My heart is beating and my body is healthy and I have plane tickets and a pretty dress on and a funky, unattractive tan line but hey, at least I'm tan.
And maybe we just need to do that a little more often, don't you think?
Like maybe if we just take our eyes off of ourselves- what's wrong, what we want, why we have the right to cry and complain- and just, I don't know, be thankful for all the stuff we have... it could change everything.
It could change everything.
I listened to this sermon by Matt Chandler a few months ago and he talked about a bonfire of praise. I love that term. It's up there in one of the most beautiful ways to live life I've ever heard of.
He pointed out that when you are grateful, you're happy. You're happy because you count all the good stuff you have. And counting the good stuff makes you thankful. And if you're thankful you are happy and happiness leads back to gratefulness and if you just keep on living like that you can kind of explode a little and just become one big bonfire of thankfulness. And praise. And kindness. Because if you're grateful and thankful and any other good word you can think of ending in 'ful' then you can also be happy. And joyful. And joy will just yield thankfulness once again. And it just keeps going.
Don't you want to just keep going like that?
There are so many great role models in this world. And then there are like, some really really really horrible ones. Take a look on the big screens and you'll find so many ways to not live your life. Be unhappy. Complain about your job. Drink a lot. Gossip. Hate your work. Try some drugs. Tell everyone how horrible your life is. Boast about everything. Pity yourself when you mess up. Never take risks. Try as hard as you can to be the most self centred and arrogant person around. Expect everything to be handed to you on a silver platter. Curse a lot.
Check all that off your list and the only thing you're lacking from so many celebrities is the fame. Thing is- tons of young people live this way in the Western World. It's what's plastered across our news channels and movie clips and I have seen the deadliness of it trickle down into teenagers. To twelve year olds. To forty year old addicts who don't dare want to break out of their vice grip of abusiveness because it's familiar and it's popular.
But what if we just lived a little differently?
Stopped counting all the stuff that makes you want to pull your hair out and grab the tissues. Make a deal with yourself to try your absolute hardest to just see the good side even when it seems so incredibly impossible. Shake your own hand and promise with all your heart and soul that when the crappy circumstances come and bare their wild faces, you'll look the other way. Have no part in it. Drop the baggage of self pity in the garbage and pick up some better outlooks. Be fearless enough to kiss your hatred good bye and grab a hold of thankfulness. Gratefulness. Kindness. Walk hand in hand with them.
Turn your life into a bonfire. Because if you're standing there and burning bright with big, beautiful lights, you'll set other people on fire. You'll set some hope in places that need it more than anything else. You'll bring light with you and carry it around like it's your middle name. And don't you know babe? Don't you know? This world so desperately needs some more light.
February 2nd, 2016
I have been staring at this screen for three days. I mean, not literally. I have to pee, eat, sleep. Play some rounds of hide and go seek. Teach my girls how to square dance. Do some dishes. Cuddle with the cutest 10 month old babe on the planet.
But in my hearts eye, I have been staring at this screen for three days.
Give me a word, God. Tell me what to write. Open something up to me. I asked Him for three days.
Today, I read the book of Nehemiah and the book of Esther. I sat down at my kitchen table with sunlight streaming in the windows, a coffee cup in my hands and fresh bread in front of me. I wasn't thinking about this blog post. I just realized that in three days the only time I read God's Word was in my morning and evening devotionals. Devotionals can be such a tricky slope- we can make them our only time with God. As if two minutes and letters someone else wrote is better than the rich scriptures and the God of the universe. Devotionals are tricky because they take away our guilt, too. Did you spend time with God today, Annika? Why yes I did. I can answer. I read a devotional by Spurgeon before I even brushed my teeth this morning.
That's what I've done the past few days.
But this afternoon I was thirsty. I was hungry. I felt parched.
I had walked into my room and seen my bible on my bed and my need to hear God's voice slammed into me like a ton of bricks.
As I was walking into the living room, my friend Fri (pronounced Free) was walking out of her bedroom with her bible in her hands. I need to read. She told me. I feel so empty and dark and lonely if I'm not feeding on the bible every day. I have three kids and sometimes they take up all my time. I can't even take care of them right unless I read this book.
So that's how I ended up sitting down for two straight hours and reading. And crying. I cried for the first time that I can ever remember while reading the bible. I got to Nehemiah 8 and 9 and didn't notice I was crying until I realized my cheeks were wet.
So were theirs. The people in Nehemiah 8 and 9. They were weeping. This book deals with people rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. The Israelites had been exiled for a long time and were finally allowed to return back to their homeland. Their exile had been beause of their rebellion against a holy and good God. A God who had chosen them as His people. Who had loved and cared for them and protected them. They, as a response, continually forgot about Him. They were always doing the opposite of what He said. But now, because that same God is merciful and loving- they have returned to their land. They're back in Jerusalem.
In chapter 8, Nehemiah and Ezra and some Levites are reading from the Book of the Law of Moses (essentially, their bible then) and helping the people understand what's being said. The Israelites, in turn, are wailing.
Why don't I wail, God?
Because you don't understand who I am.
And then my cheeks were wet. I don't think God meant those 7 words as a slap across my cheek. Because the next thing I heard?
I want you to understand who I am.
I reached my fingers up and try to swipe at the tears.
Me too, Lord. I whisper in my heart. I want to understand who You are. I think if I could understand that, if I could grasp the immensity, the kindness, the mercy, the seriousness of God... I might cry more. I might love more. I might live better.
Here's the truth: my life is dark. I never want to throw up some missionary illusion and make anyone think I have it all together. Truth is, I desire stuff over God somedays. Somedays my temper errupts and I get so tired of Anna crying. Somedays the girls ask me to play with them and I say no. Somedays I know I should do the dishes for Fri, but I am so dang tired that I flop onto my bed instead. I have this really horrible heart. There are times when I would rather watch TV instead of pray. There have been times where my frustration takes over and I pound out five miles in my running shoes instead of getting on my knees. I'm so imperfect.
I have always found my way back to God, though. Or, God has dragged me back to Himself. And yet, I never wail. I never weep. I never cry. I get myself positioned in front of The Lord, fix my eyes, and just sit there. Nothing changes. The next day I still choose something over God.
Nehemiah 8:9b. The people were weeping. They got to hear God's word (which we can read every day, might I add), and they were torn apart at it. Sometimes I go days without really reading the bible. When I finally read it again, I have a lot of slip ups to confess. When I finally reposition my eyes on God, I have a lot of things that need to be dealt with in my soul. More often than not, I don't really care. More often than I care to admit, I read the bible or pray because I just want to not be guilty. Not because I want to spend time with God. Not because my heart is right or pure.
But today? I cried.
I pictured myself standing at those walls of Jerusalem. I heard Ezra, Nehemiah, the Levites, reading out the word of the Law of Moses and I understood. I understood God. And because I finally understood Him, my cheeks were finally salty. In chapter 9, the Israelites take turns confessing their sins and then praising God.
I don't wail in front of God because I don't realize the gravity of my sin. I don't realize that I've thrown out, spit on and trampled over the things that God says. Most days, I don't realize that I'm unworthy and small.
Chances are, you don't either. Chances are, you don't wail.
So I am going to invite you to the walls of Jerusalem.
Maybe you've been in exile. Maybe it's been weeks, months, years since you've picked up your bible. Maybe you've gone after things of this world. Maybe you had too much alcohol, taken the wrong risks, turned your back on the wrong people. Maybe you gave up. Maybe the hinges to your prayer door are rusty. Maybe your soul feels full of cobwebs. Maybe you forgot about the cross. Maybe you're just so tired and your feet are so sore and you just finally want rest.
Come to the walls of Jerusalem.
There's hope, here, you know. There's freedom here. There's liberty in these passages. No matter what you've done or where you've wandered- it is not worse than the Israelites. Did you make a golden calf of idolatry? Are you too caught up on money? Your sin isn't too big. Your journey isn't too far. The Israelites wandered from God so much that they were embarassed to think about it. Their stack of sin was so tall they couldn't see the top, anymore. But you know what?
God brought them back.
Back to their city. Back to safety. Back to their homeland.
Come to the walls of Jerusalem, beloved. Come on. It's where God will whisper that He is strong enough, smart enough, merciful enough, loving enough, to win you back. But when you get there... When you get here... When you walk up to these walls with me- I hope you cry. I hope you weep. I'll do so with you. At these walls, when you reach them at last, confess your sin. Read the bible. Hear the words. Listen to the fact that you have done wrong and messed up. You're so unworthy. You so don't deserve this. You so don't deserve your homeland. You so don't deserve safety.
Yet here at these brick walls it is all offered to you freely.
I hope you cry. I hope you weep. First for how big your offences are. And secondly as you realize that He loves you anyways.
He loves you anyways.
Go and tell the world. Go and invite them to the walls of Jerusalem.
Anna started walking today.
If you don't know Anna from my endless stories and posts and pictures, let me introduce you. She is 10 months old. She's the daughter to my best Peruvian friend, Fri (pronounced Free). I watch her for hours every day and we have seriously become inseparable. We live in the same house which means morning and night time snuggles. Her vocabulary includes mama, AHH, and a few screams. She has the cutest a smile of any baby I have ever met. She loves to dance.
And today, she took her hands off the back off our wooden kitchen chair and shakily walked her way over to where I was kneeling on the floor. Five steps. I caught her in my arms on the last one and a grin was spread across her chubby cheeks and I was so dang proud of her. I picked her up and swung her around and kissed her forehead and let out a little shout of excitement because she had finally walked! Two months of watching this girl and she's become like my own.
For the past ten days, I have been trying so hard to get her to walk. I knew she could do it- she was always putting one hand on the wall for balance and walking around the room. She'd cling to some of my fingers and get from one end of the kitchen to the other. She can stand up on her own, squat on he own and navigate her way around the house all by her lonesome. She has the balance, a cute pink pair of shoes and the determination to take the steps. For ten days, I have stood her up, slid back and opened up my arms. Come on, baby girl. I won't let you fall. I kept telling her over and over. Just take that first step. Never, at any time, was I far enough from her that I couldn't catch her. Never, for a split second, would she have hit the floor had she tripped in her attempt to walk on her own. But she didn't know that. She must not have known that, despite my arms being just inches from her. She must not have known it, despite the fact that I have never once let her fall. Because every time I stood her up and slid back and told her to take a step- come on my sweet Anna, just take a step- she wouldn't. She'd keep glancing between her pink shoes and my outstretched arms. Back and forth. Back and forth. You can do it Anna, come on, I chanted for ten days. Back and forth. And then she'd plunk her bum on the ground and crawl the mere two feet separating us.
I'd laugh and pick her up and we'd start the process all over again. In a way, I loved the hours spent trying to get her to walk. In another, I just wanted her to take those steps because I knew she could. Her muscles were strong enough, her balance was good enough, her shoes were tied tight enough and I was there. I was there and there was not a chance she was going to get hurt.
I wonder if that's what it's like with us and God, sometimes. I wonder if He ever feels the way that I have for the past ten days. I wonder if He ever puts a challenge in front of our face- a person to love, a new thing to do, words to speak- and whispers come on, baby girl. I won't let you fall. I wonder if He sits beside us or in front of us and just says that over and over. Just take that first step. I wonder if He wants us to know that never, at any time, would He be far enough from us that He couldn't catch us. I wonder if He so longs for us to know that not for a split second would we hit the floor in our attempt to be brave.
His word says that He is not far from any of us. Yet we must not know it, despite the ink on the pages of the bible. We must not know it despite the fact that He has never once let us fall. I wonder if we glance from the chasm, the challenge, the gap, to God- back and forth, back and forth, back and forth- and then decide to sit down. I wonder how many times God has had His arms literally around us and yet we have let our fear grow so big that we decide it's better to stay on the floor. I wonder how many times we have let our shaky legs get the better of us even though God has never let us smack the concrete before. I wonder how many times we build our own roadblocks and become our own wrecking balls when God is whispering to just take the first step. Just put one foot in front of the other and then do it again and if we dare slip, even but for a single moment, His hands would be clasped around ours and we would not fall.
And, I guess, I wonder how it will feel when we finally just walk. When we take our hands off the back of the chair and realize that God has given us all we need- the muscles, balance and good shoes- to love people, to speak words of truth, to start our own business, to buy those plane tickets. I wonder how it will feel when our shaky legs don't let us down and God never moves His arms and we shuffle our way across the floor. Whether it be one step or five steps or the whole entire room, I bet we'll smile. I bet when we just let go of the chair and trust that God's arms are strong enough to catch us, hold us and carry us, we will let out a little shout of excitement. We will realize that the steps that sometimes make our knees knock together in fear are so much better than plunking our butts on the ground and crawling.
So would you do it? Oh, come on babe. Would you do it? Would you pry those fingers away and just trust what God said? Anna's fear was silly- I was right beside her. I am nineteen years old and strong enough to catch her little body. But to her, it was so real. Ten days of fear kept her from trusting me. Will your fear keep you from trusting Him? Or will you tie your pink shoes and believe that God is not going to let you fall?
You could walk, you know. You could finally, finally, finally get up off the floor and walk.
I have never thought much about December 31st to be honest. Or January 1st. I have never, ever put extra thought into what I want or who I want to become in a new year. I've never gotten really resolved. I've never set an amount of weight to lose or a new job to get. I've never thought about it. To me, it's always just been another day out of the 365 that takes us around the sun. Not that I knock on people who get real and resolve to change. I support that- you go, girl (or boy). It's just never been for me.
But this year, I want to set it on my heart and mind to remember God's faithfulness for 365 days straight. That's not a resolution, I know. Not really. My goal has nothing to do with the amount of miles I'll run or the pictures I'll take or the places I'll go. It's so simple, yet so hard: remember His faithfulness. Remember. His. Faithfulness.
I own this book by a well known Christian author called 'gods at war'. Kyle Idleman wrote it among other books. He makes the point that all of our sin is rooted in idolatry. That the base of everything we do that goes against God comes from the fact that we value something else more... that there's something bigger that is taking up our hearts. Amen, brother. I totally get his point. I get his point because I see it in my own life- when I choose to watch a movie over sitting down with my bible, it's because I want to watch the movie more. Because I've chosen to like it more. When I say angry words to my friends and family, it's because I'd rather let out my temper than think of what God's Word says about it. When I give a guy my heart more than I give it to God, it's because I think that guy is more valuable. So many of my choices are rooted in idolatry. There are so many things that I choose over God because I hold them of more value.
But I just think that if I could wake up in the morning and remember who God is and what He has done, I wouldn't want things over Him. In the past 3 weeks I've read the Pentateuch. I finished it yesterday. Society and Satan will do so much to tell you that the bible is flimsy and useless and empty. It's a lie. The bible is fatty and rich. The Pentateuch is so good and essential. It's full.
The first five books of the bible tell the story of the Israelites, God's chosen people. He rescued them from Egypt, delivered them from slavery, led them through the wildnerness and to a promised land reserved only for them. He took down armies, scattered their enemies and made a way for them to get to safety. One second the Israelites would raise their hands and praise God and promise to follow Him and love Him for all their hearts, and the next they were complaining. They would complain about the food... at first they didn't have any and then when they got fresh manna daily, they complained that they were tired of it. They'd consistently say that they were following God, and then they would disobey all His commands. They'd throw insults at Him and believe that He had rescued them just to kill them. They were more moody and emotional than a girl pmsing. Sometimes it was painful to read through. God continually instructed them to remember His faithfulness. He told them to write it on their foreheads, to meditate on it, to think about it when they woke up and before they went to bed and to tell their kids about Him and His law.
I think that The LORD knew that if the Israelites could just take their eyes off themselves and their needs and look at Him and everything He'd done for Him, they'd trust Him. If they could just remember who this God was that they followed, they would keep following Him.
In 2016, that is my heartbeat. Day in and day out, I just want to remember who God has always been. So in moments where I am struggling or questioning I can believe that God has a better plan than I know. He's got a better dream for me. He's running the universe and He always has. He has been faithful to His word and to His promises and He always will be. For 365 days I want to fix my eyes on Jesus and His cross. I want to lift my head up and focus my mind on heaven.
Leaving home this time around for this mission trip was really hard. I hurt and struggled in ways I didn't imagine. I missed (miss) home so badly somedays. But in all this, believing that The LORD has a purpose makes everything easier. When I look at His faithfulness and all the stuff He's done for me and when I read His Word and it says that He is never changing, it makes my heart skip a beat. It gives me hope. A wild, unreserved hope and happiness. It's beautiful. When I do this, I can be expectant for Him to still be good even when I don't understand what's happening.
In scripture, God always tells us to lift our eyes up and look to Him. And He must say that because He knows that if we would just remember His faithfulness, we wouldn't be so painfully disobedient and wayward.
Would you do this with me? Every day, every morning and night, would you remember God's faithfulness? When you get frantic and stuck in situations and walk down dark tunnels, can you remember all He's done? Remember the 5,000 Jesus fed? Remember how God created you and saved you and loves you? Remember the cross and the resurrection that came after? Remember when He provided for you? Remember when He came through before? Remember when you doubted and He still showed up? Paint it on your door, tack it on your wall, tape it in your car. Remember His faithfulness. Do it with me. For the rest of the year, let's remember who He is.
I am a big fan of being real.
I didn't used to be. I used to like being fake. I used to like building up walls and pictures and pretenses and profiles. I used to like being someone I wasn't because I thought who I was wouldn't be good enough to be liked. I didn't even know what I was doing... I didn't know my heart and mind. I didn't know I was wrapped around what people thought of me and how much people liked me. I didn't know that my actions hinged on how people would see me. I wasn't aware that I was subconsciously trying to calcuate my every move and make it perfect.
That's how my life was for nineteen years.
And then just after my nineteenth birthday I started a really hard job that ripped the floor out from under my feet and my life got messy. I got messy. And my perfect facade had to go away because there was no way I could keep it up when I could hardly keep my footing on life.
Two weeks into this job, in September, I woke up one morning and decided to get a tattoo. It wasn't planned. I had wanted one for a while but never took action. But I woke up and had to work at 1pm and decided: today, I will get a tattoo.
That's what I decided on even though the two words had never had an overly large significant meaning in my life. It didn't matter. I called up a tattoo artist and asked him if he had any openings. He asked if I could be there in half an hour. I drove way over the speed limit, got to his shop, sat down in a chair and whimpered as the needle drove ink into the side of my hand.
People asked about it and I told them it was because Jesus sets us free from everything. That there is nothing that can hold us down when we're in Him cause He's already won every battle. Alcoholism, fear, pain, addiction. It can't hold us down anymore. At the time, I didn't know I was still caged up. I wasn't set free. I was still valuing what people said more than anything else and that caused me to build iron bars around my life and lock myself in. I figured that Jesus set us free from drugs and beer. I figured I was set free because there was nothing I was addicted to.
But I was. I was addicted to something: people. Their thoughts of me. Their opinions of me. Their critism on my heart mattered more to me than what Jesus said.
This morning, a friend and I had a heart to heart. It was more like a fight, I think. Not that I'm a fan of fighting and not that I want to fight with people. I don't. But my friend pointed out all the stuff I'd done in the past five months that looked bad. Mind you, it wasn't biblically incorrect. None of my actions were. Nothing I did went against Jesus. In fact, if I hadn't have done some of the things I would have actually disobeyed scripture. But things looked bad. The picture of my life wasn't perfect. And because of that, I lost a friend. Two friends, actually. Because of the way things looked, I lost two of the people I cared about more than anything else in this world. Because I decided to take scripture seriously and stay true to what Jesus said- and that doesn't always look good- I lost someone. And it sucked. It does suck and it does hurt.
But the most ironic thing happened to me when I got down on my knees and sobbed my heart out and tried to pray my way through it. I realized that Jesus had set me free from that iron bar cage I had built around myself. I realized that at one time, if someone told me that the way I was living looked bad, I would have stopped. I would have listened without a second thought and stopped whatever I was doing. I'd give anything up to make myself look better.
Today? I won't. I don't care about how things look anymore. I don't hold the words that people throw at me above what scripture says. I do not count people's opinions higher than what Jesus whispers to me. I am not going to stop following Him, pursuing Him, seeking Him- just to look better. I am not going to stop taking risks or loving people or giving until it hurts just to look better. I am not going to change everything about me just to look better. I refuse to put up a front any more. I will never, ever, ever again try to build a fake profile or pretend to be perfect just to look better.
I used to. I used to do that day in and day out and it was exhausting. I didn't even know how hung up I was on other people. I didn't know how much energy and happiness it sucked from my life. The messages I got this morning didn't make me feel joyful. It hurt like hell. And it was hard. And I am battling through it. But I have decided to be real. And this is what is real and true about me:
I am messy. And I am human. And I will stumble and fall and I'll make mistakes and I'll hurt people. I'll kiss boys that I shouldn't kiss and say words I shouldn't say and do things I shouldn't do. But I will love people. With every ounce of this heart beating in my chest, I will love people. And I won't always love people perfectly but it doesn't mean I'll stop. And I will follow Jesus and I will take His words seriously. And as a result, He has set me free. Nearly five months after getting those seven letters tattooed on the side of my right hand, I finally understand them.
Jesus set me free. And boy, is it ever beautiful.
Here is what I have been told about God: He is useless. He is a crutch. He isn't
real. He is fake. He's responsible for all the bad stuff in the world. He doesn't
care. He doesn't exist. He hates us. If He loves us, He never shows it. He isn't
to be talked about in schools or the mall or anywhere public. He's not for everyone.
He's not everyone's cup of tea. Don't talk about Him so much. Don't speak about Him
in front of people- it's awkward and embarassing.
Here is what I know about God: He loves us.
That's it. I know there's all kinds of debate nowadays in the Western part of
the world about His love- should we speak about it? Are we speaking about it too
much? I don't know. I'm not a philosopher. I am not wise or smart or a teacher
or a preacher. I am just a girl, and yet one fact has radically changed my life:
He loves us. He loves me. He loves me. Romans says it's His kindness that brings
us to repentence. Amen, brother. That's what made me hand my life over willingly
to Him. That's what caused me to kneel before my bed three and a half years ago
and utter the words: I'm Yours, Jesus.
And as I sit in my room, my back against a mud wall, my bible on my lap, staring
out at a snowcapped mountain in the Andes, I realize one thing. There may be a lot
of debate about God and what He says and how the bible is interpeted, but this I
know with all my heart: He loves us. He loves me. And to sit here and realize that
all over again is bringing me to tears.
Some people say that Jesus died on a cross and that was it. Take it or leave it.
He did what He did out of love and now the rest is up to us. I say that's a bunch
of poop. I say that's not true. I will willingly stand and testify about this: He
is still in the buisness of pursuing us. Say what you want, but I promise you, He
is still chasing after us. He is still wooing us. He is still fighting for us. Don't
ask me why. I mean, YES, out of His love. Why He would love us, us deformed, imperfect,
flawed people, I absolutely do not know. But I am 100% sure that He does.
Ten months ago, I knelt on my sisters floor in England and begged Jesus to tell me where
He was going to take me next.. What He was going to do with me, now. University?
Africa? Somewhere else? I begged Him to tell me where. Daily, for a while, I got
down on my knees and asked Him to just tell me. Just tell me, Jesus. And then one
night my sister and I were on our way back from the gym, blasting music and singing
in her car and I was daydreaming and I heard Jesus whisper to me: Peru. My response?
No. No, Lord. Sorry. You can take me anywhere, but not there. I'll go where I want, and
trust me, I have never wanted to go to Peru. You must be mistaken. For weeks I
ignored His words and kept praying that He would make me love Him more. That is one
of my consistent bare bone prayers: make me love You more, Jesus. And as I
continued to pray that, I continued to hear Him tell me Peru. Over and over. So
finally, reluctantly, I agreed.
And now, ten months later and my consistent request of making me love Him more,
I sit in the Andes Mountains in an orphanage in Peru. As I sit here, I cry because
as I said, I am realizing again that He loves us. He loves me. Jesus loves me.
And it's such a big realization that my hands are too small to keep it contained.
Here is why I say He is in the business of pursuing us: because He is pursuing me.
My barebones prayer? He has answered. The bible says that He is a jealous lover. The
fact that He would be jealous for me is so wonderful that I don't know what to say
or do. The fact that He would be so jealous as to actually act on it, overwhelms me.
The orphanage I will spend four months living in is located at the end of the earth. No
I am serious. I have found the end of the earth. Five plane rides, a few days of travelling,
one day of driving over and up and around and up and down and across and through the
Andes and I have found the end of the earth. Here, there are few kids, no media,
no internet, little cell phone service and no one who speaks English. Here, I am
removed so far from friends and family and.. well, anything, that I am actually
beginning to wonder if the rest of the world exists. Here, I can't even speak... Literally.
I don't speak Spanish and the people here don't speak English. I didn't know what
to do or think or feel at first. I was tired and upset and sick. And I didn't want to
be here. But as I sit on my bed tonight, watching a breath taking sunset over
the snow-capped mountain in front of my window, I realize that Jesus has pursued me. Here, I
can do nothing but be quiet. It's so much different than my thirty minutes of quiet time
with Jesus at the beach. Here, I have no choice but to sit and listen and learn. I
have no influences. No friends, family, media, church buildings or religion and at the moment
no electricity. I've got nothing but Jesus.
Make me love You more, Jesus. My bare-bone prayer.
I want you to love me more, Annika.
I am a jealous lover and I want all of you. I don't want part of your heart. I don't
want thirty minutes every few weeks at the beach. I don't just want your ten minute
morning devotional. I don't want you to be thinking of other people more than you think
of Me. I don't want you to read your bible every now and then. I want you to cling to
My Word like it is your lifeline. I don't want half of you. I want all of you. My Word
says I'm fierce and I am. So I will take you to the end of the earth and I will answer
your prayer because it's what I want for you, too. I will cause you to love me more because
that is the best thing for you. My love is the best thing for you. My heart and will
and desire is the best thing for you. And because I love you so much, I want what's best
for you. I am your Lover and Father and Saviour and Friend and I am not going to
give up on you. I am not going to stop pursing you. I chose you on the cross and today
I choose you again, and I will take you to the end of the earth just to show you that I
love you and I am what's best for you.
That's what Jesus is saying to me.
Call me crazy. Call me a dreamer. Call me cliché, if you want. Whether you believe
this or not, I am certain that He loves me. I am certain that He has and is pursuing
me. And if He is doing this for me, let me tell you something: I am certain He is
doing it for you, too. I am certain He wants you. I am certain He loves you in
this fierce, overwhelming way. He has taken me to the end of the earth where I can
do nothing but shut up and listen. And these are the truths that He is whispering- or
shouting- into the depths of my heart.
I am sure that if you sit and listen, He will tell you, too.
He loves you.
"I have this really huge big fear that I won't live life." I wrote. "That some day I'll come to the end of my life and see all of my wasted opportunities and all the things I could have done and all the people I could have loved and just didn't."
"That definitely happens to a lot of people" He answered. "I don't think you'll be one of them."
"It happens to countless people. I really, really, really don't want to be one of them." The plea of my heart was that he would answer with assurance. That he would pat my back and promise me I would not be one of those people. I was hoping he would write out a million reasons why this would not happen to me. I was hoping that he would somehow give me some encouraging, inspirational quote. He didn't. He answered with three words. It made me laugh.
Then don't. He said.
He probably logged off Facebook and didn't think any more about it. But those three words kept nagging at the back of my head. Don't. Simple. Just don't. Don't confine yourself. Don't let insecurity draw a circle around you. Don't keep your arms in. Don't keep your passion locked away. Don't be fearful. Please, please don't be fearful. Don't say no to risk. Don't say no to opportunities. Don't say no to new life.
Don't. Look around at an aged world who is lugging bags and bags full of regrets and unspoken words and do not let yourself be like them.
Don't. Don't get so caught up in the act of finding God that you forget to sit down and just be with Him. Don't get so involved in the church that you forget to be the church. Don't seek so deeply for a mission and try to do so many things that you forget to sit down and just let yourself love Him. Don't try to heap up an impressive list of to-do's and forget to do the most important thing- love.
Don't. Don't waste rainy days. Don't forget that it's okay to feel. Don't forget that fearlessness looks a whole lot like cliff jumping with your best friends but it also looks a whole lot like letting yourself cry in a messy, heartbreaking way on the bathroom floor. Don't forget that to be fearless often means standing in front of a crowd and delivering a speech but it also means stepping back and letting someone else take the centre stage.
Don't. Don't forget that the people in front of you are real, breathing, living beings. Don't get so wrapped up in media and texting and profiles and likes that you forget that the people in front of you have a heart beat-beat-beating in their chest. Don't get so caught up with being superficial that it causes you to forget the truth: you've got one life. One life, baby. One life. And if you've got one life then it means you've got one chance. And if you've only got one chance to love then you better do it. You better turn off the internet and sit in a coffee shop and start loving people with words and actions and not just a cell phone.
Don't. Don't forget to show up. I don't mean for dates or to school. Don't forget to be a living, breathing, screaming invitation to people to believe in something better. Don't forget to be there for people. Don't be afraid to get into the scary, nitty gritty, realness of someone's heart and soul. Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty with the brokenness of other people. Don't be so distant from people.
That's what my friends' three words screamed at me- a bunch of don'ts. A million reasons to live and love and give and serve. I'm not good at any of the above. I mess up daily and have too many unspoken words on these lips. My arms are empty with the people I did not hold and my hands are aching from too many times I held back from giving. I can give you a very long list of my flaws, starting with the way I fold laundry and ending with how I love people... But I'm trying. I am practising the art of just being here. Of showing up on someone's doorstep with a bible and two coffee cups in my hand. I am practising the art of buying flowers and meeting at cafes and trying desperately to show people goodness.
I think that's what it boils down to, a lot of the time. When you are wondering about your motives and beliefs and your very life, I think you'll ask yourself one question: did you believe in goodness? More importantly, did you live it out?
19 year old girl following Jesus. Trying to spend my life doing the most significant thing I'm capable of: loving others and spreading the gospel.