Happy Endings

IMG_0424We hear about problems every day it seems like, in America and abroad. It just never seems to end. A lot of people have ideas about how to solve these problems whether its violence, love, protests and it goes on. Heck, people will tell you Jesus will solve every one of your problems. I kept telling myself I wouldn’t write another blog post. I definitely didn’t want to talk about the world affairs on my blog. I read books and I like to write about how they point me closer to God and I HOPE that they may be of some solace or meaning to others. If not, then I guess I’m content to let my words travel with the wind and vanish into nothingness.

Donald Miller is one of my favorite writers and I recently read an old book of his for the first time called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. It was a great book. He describes what it’s like writing the script for a movie about his life. He is faced with making his life into a story; a story that needed an inciting incident, a climax and a conclusion of sorts. However, he’s pretty honest about the fact that his life is pretty boring. So he decides to do things to make it more exciting like hike the Inca Trail and bike across America. He calls us to resist the comfort of home and monotony and push yourself to do something different.  I love looking at life as a story but I wasn’t going to blog about it until got to chapter 29 which was called “The Reason God Hasn’t Fixed You Yet”. It’s safe to say that wrecked me. I wish I could just copy and paste that whole chapter here. He addressed things that have always lurked in the corners of my heart: the idea that material possessions and/or relationships will satisfy the call of my heart and mind for meaning and happiness. Miller confesses that he “worshipped at the altar of romantic completion” meaning he thought that there was a girl out there that would complete him. I’ve been right there with him. I have had to learn though that no human being can complete someone else. We all fail way too much for that to work. He provides a story of a woman he had an interview with to illustrate this:

“She said she had married a guy, and he was just a guy. He wasn’t going to make all her problems go away, because he was just a guy. And that freed her to really love him as a guy, not as an ultimate problem solver. And because her husband believed she was just a girl, he was free to really love her too. Neither needed the other to make everything okay. They were simply content to have good company through life’s conflicts. I thought that was beautiful.” (Miller 205)

That really is beautiful. I had to take a second to let that soak in. Comforting honestly.

Miller even says that Jesus isn’t going to solve all of your problems on this earth.  Life doesn’t get any easier after believing Christ is your Savior. Life doesn’t get any easier when you decide you want to follow Christ. I accepted Christ and was baptized in January of this year and I can’t say my life has gotten any easier. Honestly this past month I have been close to tears at least twice a week. This world SUCKS. People SUCK. I SUCK. (I think I’ve said that in every blog post now)

So a lot of things suck. This world is broken. Materials aren’t going to fulfill me. Relationships aren’t going to fulfill me. This is not to say that relationships and materials are not worth pursuing and enjoying but that they are enjoyed in the context that they are meant to be enjoyed, gifts that point us to the Giver. We are given many moments of happiness in our lives that should not be downplayed. Relationships have brought me a lot of happiness and made the days so much more enjoyable but these are all relationships with imperfect people. They can’t always fulfill every need I have and I wouldn’t ask them to do so. Miller continues by saying even Jesus isn’t going to just make your life better on this earth. So do we not have a happy ending? Is happiness on this earth impossible? We all want our stories to have a happy ending. Donald Miller sees the happy ending in the hope that the gospel of Jesus Christ gives us. Revelation 21:1-5 shows this most aptly:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

That’s the happy ending that will keep me looking forward. That’s what keeps me from despondency and from thinking that meaning can be found in other people, toys or even our jobs. We can rest when we know what our end will look like. We can write our story knowing where we are going. We can enjoy the gifts that God has given us and enjoy the best gift of all: Himself. We can even endure the trials and the pain because we know that one day God will “wipe away every tear” from our eyes.There are a lot of things in this world that can try to promise us something better but I do think the God that created us knows what’s best for us. He’s got us fam.

As I thought about all of this, I was reminded of a song my mom used to sing to me when I was a kid:

He’s got the whole world in his hands

he’s got the whole world in his hands 

he’s got the whole world in his hands

he’s got the whole world in his hands

Yeah, i know. I’m sorry for the cheesiness. However, it’s still a truth we can all cling to until the end of our days.

Miller, Donald (2009-08-26). A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life. Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

The Power of Our Story- The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

I’ve spent a great deal more time reading the New Testament than the Old Testament. It always felt the New Testament was more important. I don’t say this to claim any expertise or more knowledge of the New Testament. I say this to admit a failing of mine. For most of my life as a Christian, I stayed away from the Old Testament because I thought it was boring. Even over the last three or four years, I focused on the New Testament to fill my mind with doctrinal arguments so that I would be prepared to argue for my belief. Sure, I might’ve had good intentions but what is more convincing than a good argument? A person living a life completely dependent on God: his power, his grace, his love and his mercy. A person that faces the world’s beliefs and chooses to follow a route that will leave them antagonized and ultimately, vulnerable. A person that prays for their friends but also prays for their enemies. The Old Testament provides us with story after story after story of men and women that have lived this life. These testimonies are the living proof of the Holy Spirit’s presence and work in this world.

Testimonies can show us vulnerability. We open up our hearts and lives to the judgements of others and trust that God will work according to his will. When I share my testimony in front of people a part of me is always a little scared of what people will think about me. I know the wealth of judgements people can make about me. I also know that God calls us to share our testimonies because of what He can do through them. A testimony that has had a huge effect on me recently has been a book called The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. I was absolutely blown away. Their daily dependence on God and their faith was convicting. It showed me where my heart rested which was still in a place of self-reliance. My thoughts still focused on my life and my plan. Pieces of my life I still long to hold on to. It’s only when I fail (which happens a lot) that I realize I’m not able to do any of life on my own. I need someone to lean into. It can’t be another person because we are all in the same boat. So the God that I believe in and desire to have a relationship with is my source of strength as it was Corrie’s.

“But— and here I felt a strange leaping of my heart— God did! My job was simply to follow His leading one step at a time, holding every decision up to Him in prayer. I knew I was not clever or subtle or sophisticated; if the Beje was becoming a meeting place for need and supply, it was through some strategy far higher than mine (Ten Boom 99).”

He promises much to us in His Word. a In the midst of the chaos and darkness of this world, there are still things to be thankful for. Corrie Ten Boom, the main character from The Hiding Place, is placed in a prison camp as punishment for helping Jews during World War II. Throughout all the pain and suffering she sees and experiences in the camps, she is completely focused on God’s plan. Not her plan. My life plan as a college student has a heavy layer of uncertainty over it. However, as the God of the universe His plan cannot be less than perfect and it’s a plan made for me by the creator and caretaker of my soul. Dependence on Him.

Corrie’s story was filled with love for the Jews she helped rescue but also for the Germans who tortured her and her family. It didn’t always come easy for her but she continued pressing into God looking for the strength to love others. She comes to a realization about love, God’s love for us.

“Love. How did one show it? How could God Himself show truth and love at the same time in a world like this? By dying. The answer stood out for me sharper and chillier than it ever had before that night: the shape of a Cross etched on the history of the world (Ten Boom 108).”

After all the bad circumstances, it would be easy to blame God and at times she did. As she left her cell in one of the prison camps she came across what gives us the title of this book.

“For I, too, had a hiding place when things were bad. Jesus was this place, the Rock cleft for me (Ten Boom 182).”

I write because most of the time I don’t speak what I think for whatever reason, whether it be fear or an insecurity I haven’t completely come to terms with. I pray though that my eyes are continually set on You and that I may earnestly pursue you in my thoughts and actions from the depths of my heart and that you will use me and my story, my testimony, to proclaim and glorify Your Name.

A Beautiful Story

A lot of Western theology rests upon the writings of Augustine, whether people agree with his beliefs or not. He was a great thinker, learned in the art of rhetoric, and his Confessions make that apparent. Let’s be real though. There’s been plenty of great thinkers preceding and following Augustine, so what makes him so amazing? His decision to forego his reputation and his name to share his testimony and confess his sins. For those who haven’t read his Confessions, he basically comes out and says he’s a sex addict. How insane is it that we’ve based part of our theology off of the teaching of a sex addict? Awkward maybe? Disgusting? Off-putting? It’s actually kind of beautiful. We have a man almost 1700 years ago entrenched in his sin, who is exposed to the Gospel and is saved. It’s another incredible example of the saving power of God. Augustine’s story is one that drew me closer to God and many of his struggles are similar to my own. I found it incredibly striking that I could connect to a man who lived over a thousand years ago. Though the times have changed drastically, we still have these common threads that have been woven through the story of humanity.

On a similar note, we tend to look at the great Christian thinkers and focus on the devout lives they live. These people seem to have their relationship with God figured out and are always growing closer to God. I admit that sometimes comparison arises out of this line of thinking (hopefully I’m not the only one) but there’s an important kernel of truth missing: life can be messy. Augustine confirms it but in his messiness God works and in this great work do we see the God of the universe most glorified. That’s really what makes the messiest of stories beautiful.

Finding Our Identity – Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

When I look at a lot of the problems and struggles I’ve had in my life a lot of them can be labeled as searching for my identity. I was born with a different color skin than a majority of the people living in the country I was born in. This brown skin came with so many labels and stereotypes that immediately when people look at me they can categorize me as a certain type of person. As I was growing up, I spent quite a bit of time under my older sister’s shadow. People expected things of me because of their experiences with her. Even now as an English major, there are labels and expectations placed on me. None of these labels have ever completely defined who I am though. Honestly, I never really knew what did mainly because nothing ever did. These identities could never suit me because I fail to fit these constantly. I tried searching for my own identity in what I did but I kept ending up feeling empty and feeling like a failure.

In the book, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng the main characters struggle with being different. Marilyn marries her husband, James, because she could see he knew and valued being different. As we are introduced to James’ side of the story we see that one of the first reasons that he loved her was because “she had blended in so perfectly, because she had seemed so completely and utterly at home” (Ng). James “had never felt he belonged here, even though he’d been born on American soil, even though he had never set foot anywhere else” so though he knows what it’s like being different he doesn’t appreciate it as much as the skill of blending in (Ng). Later on in the story he encourages his own daughter, Lydia, to try to blend in and to make lots of friends. That is great advice but she had more of a reserved type of personality. Lydia’s parents also pushed her to spend all her time studying so she could become a doctor because at that time female doctors were few. Her mother had always dreamed of becoming a doctor and since she had to give up that dream she pushed it on to her daughter. In the end, these ideals for her life put too much pressure on her and never let her find her true identity because she was too busy trying to fulfill others expectations of her.

No one was made to be like anybody else. If everyone is different, how can we possibly fit other people’s expectations for how we should be? In Christ, we are given the one true identity that matters and that sets us free of anything the world may try to force on us. In Colossians 3:11 it says “here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all”. No difference can hold us back once we trust in Christ because we have given away all those labels to have the one label that the Creator gives all of His children. No more failed expectations. No more hollow, empty days. No more searching for an identity. We are alive and fulfilled in our identity in Him.

This quote by C.S Lewis says it best:

“Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it…Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making…The principle runs through all life from top to bottom, Give up yourself, and you will find your real self.”

The Normal Life (Weight of Glory Series Part 2)

Life is rarely ever normal. Just when we think all the business and madness is over new obstacles fall upon us. We get occasional breaks from the craziness of life but looming over us is the promise of what we know as life. Even right now as students are off from school for winter break, so many other new things pop up on to the schedule and maybe that book you were going to read or write, or that video game you were going to play, or movie or friend you were going to spend time with, all of that will keep us occupied and steer us away from things we had planned on doing. Maybe this is just me…but honestly, I doubt it.

In C.S Lewis’ second essay from The Weight of Glory, “Learning in War Time”, Lewis essentially compares our busy lives to living in a war time. Lewis states that “the war creates no absolutely new situation; it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it” and then delves into how our lives are never really normal. There is something always going on in the world that attracts our attention or distracts us from something else.

“Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself.”

When people become Christians they talk about how their lives have radically changed, how God has created a new person and all of this I am not in the least bit disregarding. As Christians, though, we do the same stuff for the most part as people who aren’t Christians. It’s as Lewis puts it “a new organization” or purpose but not necessarily a completely new life. We are meant to do whatever we do to glorify God. Yet, as Christians we don’t do what we must do and are called to do all of the time. When I find a church I belong to then I’ll start living for God or maybe when I’m done with all this school stuff I’ll spend more time with God. We can even say I’ll start preparing for what I want to do with my life when that time comes. We are all guilty of this reasoning, usually in the form of procrastination. I told myself I was going to write this blog post well over three weeks ago and here we are… Lewis’ most powerful statement in response to this reasoning:

If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable.”

The war metaphor is brought up again towards the end with a very acute observation that “war makes death real to us”. We are all going to die. Fact of life. People are dying everyday all around us but what makes dying in war different? We have to remember it. It is seared into our brains. We are struck by it. It has become real to us. Realizing our mortality might be the greatest gift we can receive and then it just comes down to: How much does whatever you’re doing or want to do mean to you? If you’re doing it for God, it should mean more than even the world to you.

The Scent of a Flower Yet Found (Weight of Glory Series Part 1)

All long for something. If anything, it is for our own good. A selfish desire of course but it is considered a natural desire. A basic survival instinct yet also considered sinful. Now we start going into words along the lines of obsessive.This longing makes us feel unfulfilled, incomplete. Even when we find something that seems to fill the void in our hearts eventually, the void returns. Almost as if it just shifted to another part of your heart. Almost as if what you thought would fill it never actually did. Why do we always seem to be longing for something, especially when we feel like fulfillment is a part of being human? Why can’t we find what we need?

This longing inside of us points to something deeper. We try to fill it through love, relationships, books, movies, music and our jobs yet it doesn’t seem to work. You might find that one great book or one great song but eventually you will be looking for another and another so you live life just looking for that “next high” per say and therein lies the longing. Notice also though that I said “through”these things. C.S Lewis describes these as essentially vessels. I see them more so as mirrors of true fulfillment. If you look in a mirror and see your reflection you might see how you look but I’d care to venture that that doesn’t truly encompass who you are. You might look amazing. You might even become obsessed with your image. Yet your reflection doesn’t show your personality or your beliefs. In the same way, these things we try to fill our void only show a reflection of the true fulfillment. This idea of something more in most people seems to be everlasting and generally speaking perfect and able to fulfill. There is really only one thing that can fit that description: God.

When we are finally told by God, “Well done, good and faithful servant” may we finally find complete rest and peace. Longing for things other than God are prevalent with Christians and non-Christians. As a Christian we usually just look for God for the forgiveness of our sins and once that’s over with we just go about our old ways knowing that we are saved. Yet in God, there’s more than forgiveness but rest and fulfillment. Only when we understand all that God is and all that He encompasses can a Christian and non-Christian find what they have always wanted and needed. The one thing that I’m reminded of daily is that we were made to have relationships. Relationships with friends, spouses or future spouses, family and most of all God. We were made by Him and until we are reconciled with Him we will long for Him. We just might not have found His scent.

Blue Like Jazz and Crazy Love Thoughts: An Apology

Hypocrisy. That is the the most prevalent accusation from the non-Christian world to Christians. It’s sad but unfortunately true. There are countless examples of Christians indulging into immoral behavior. Pastors preaching and then afterwards getting drunk or dabbling in sexual sins. Christians exhibiting hatred towards others whether it be race, sexuality or any other difference. In the book Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller, Donald points this out but then preceded to confront this hypocrisy in a beautiful way. He apologized.

I am sorry if you’ve ever been hurt by Christians. I am sorry if you have ever been forced to believe Christianity. I personally apologize. I’m sorry for ever judging others or saying things behind their back. I’m sorry if I’ve cursed in front of you. I’m sorry if I ignored you or treated you any less than I treat myself. I can use the grand old cover statement that nobody’s perfect. That we all make mistakes. That doesn’t change the fact that I have misrepresented the beliefs that define who I am and drive me as a person along with other people.

People get hurt by Christians and that turns them away from Christianity and God himself. Donald Miller realized this though: We can never completely represent God. We can never completely represent the Being who created the universe, who created us. I plead with anyone that is reading this and not a Christian: don’t turn away from God because of a person.

I am one person on a planet with over 7 billion people. That can make me seem pretty insignificant, right? Well let’s keep this image going. We are on a planet in a solar system with 7 other planets and one giant star we call the Sun. We are one solar system in a galaxy with tens of BILLIONS , a galaxy in a universe with hundreds of BILLIONS of galaxies. Crazy. Christianity as a whole can’t be judged based on people. Spirituality is so much more than ourselves. Christianity is so much more than ourselves. It transcends our lives on earth. That is why we all look to or think about it. We all want to know what our lives are about, what we are meant for.

We have police officers in our society to protect us but there have been cases of officers arresting innocent people and sometimes getting involved in drug scandals. What do we do if we are in trouble? In most cases we would still call the police. We trust that there are good officers out there still enforcing the law and protecting us. Likewise, Christianity does have genuine followers that really are lights in the darkness with hearts that are dedicated to serve and be there for others.

In all sincerity, I just wanted to say I am sorry for anything I have ever done or said that may have contributed to someone turning away from God while I do hope that has not happened. I am not apologizing for being a Christian but for the actions done by Christians, myself included, that are contrary to Christian virtues.I hope every person can turn to God but that is a choice that every individual must make for themselves and that is between each individual and God. I hope my life from now on reflects the choice that I have made.