Archive for April, 2015

When a Stranger Returns

I was reading John S. Burnett’s Where Soldiers Fear To Tread today and came across a passage that resonated with me.  The book is his personal story of his time as a relief worker in Somalia during the 1997-98 flood relief operations.  His story is one of survival, everyday heroics, and the struggle to find his purpose in the chaos.

While working to begin river operations in the Jubba Region (Southern Somalia) based out of Kismayo, he meets another relief worker who comes to equip his speedboat with a HF radio.  This man, Mike Dunne, had just come from the conflict in Kosovo where he was equipping the UN Peacekeeping forces with communications and was eager to get the job completed and get out of Somalia, one of the most dangerous places in the world.  Through their conversation, Dunne mentions that the WFP (World Food Program) had begun training people how to cope.  The following exchange took place:

“Cope? I can cope.”
“How do you know? You haven’t left yet. We all think we can handle it. If you are one in a million who is not affected by this [edit], then you got something missing. No, you wait until you try to return to normal life. It is the withdrawal, mate, going home, trying to pick up where you left off. That is when you see yourself [edit]. They say you are on your own in the field, but believe me, you are on your own when you get back home.”

You see, this is something we all miss.  How do you pick up the pieces when you return home? Come back to your old life?

This is an issue that is bigger than the military and civilian workers in combat zones, but Missionaries out in the field, National Service Volunteers who leave home to serve for a year or two (or four). You are not the same person you were. Even if you come home tomorrow.  Even if you’ve only been gone for a week or a couple days. Your experiences have changed you.

When I returned from Uganda, the things I saw changed me. I didn’t know how to express the pain, the suffering, the unfiltered joy that I experienced there. How can you find the words to speak about something you have not been able to process? How do you cope with seeing things that you never knew you would experience? Seeing death? Poverty? Being loved unconditionally?

I didn’t know how to cope with it all. Nobody ever told me what it would be like to feel alone. Like nobody else would know what I’ve experienced. Nobody told me how to share, to process, to work through the memories.

Oh, I know my experiences are nothing like Burnett’s in Somalia. I wasn’t facing death each day. I wasn’t in a war zone. Physically.

I know too many people who have returned from the missions field, or from serving with the military, or in AmeriCorps who returned home and have found themselves wandering. Lost among people they used to know, who used to know them. We have changed, our desires and dreams have shifted. Out thoughts return to the struggles we faced, and we can no longer handle the peaceful stillness of how things used to be.

You see, we all return homes as strangers. We all have to figure out how we are going to cope with this new experience.

Many of us have caught the bug. Home is no longer the same, so we continue to wander. We learn how to tell our story, to share these experiences. Some of us get lost within ourselves and others change and adapt more quickly. We learn to cope through writing, sharing, or burring it deep within our hearts, forever holding it in until one day it bursts out in an explosion of creativity, fear, and/or pain.

I share this so that we, as family and friends of those strangers returning to us, know that it will never be easy. No number of classes or trainings will prepare us to return to the lives we once held. And figuring out how we cope with our new selves takes time. So, be patient. Love unconditionally. And give them space to grow into the man or woman they have become.

What I Know About Love

Yesterday, while building and burning cedar piles for glade restoration, one of my teammates made a comment that sparked a train of thoughts to spin out of control in my head.  Following them was like trying to catch a rabbit.  While blindfolded. Okay, maybe not that severe, but the thoughts jumped from one to another really quickly.

Somehow our conversation wandered over to “Kanye West Wednesdays,” a ‘tradition’ that several members have tried to enforce, forcing the rest of their team to listen to Kanye West non-stop.  (Note: Not many members here in the ERT enjoy this, so it’s not very popular.)  I pointed out an article that another member had posted about how you can now purchase a copy of the Bible that replaces the name of God with Kanye. One of the girls I work with made the comment, “He’s definitely going to Hell.”

This sparked my thoughts that quickly got away from me.  Somehow, I’m going to try to convey them in an orderly fashion to where I ended moments later.

My first thought was: Yes.  This is blasphemy!  The Bible is a holy book.  The word of God.  This was quickly followed by the thought that if Kanye (or his fans?) did this same thing to the Quran, he would be instantly targeted by radical factions of Islam.  (Side note: I’m still wondering why Christians have not risen up in protest or anger about this?)

I then caught myself and asked the question: Who are we, who am I, to pass judgment and decide who will stand before God when the time comes? How can I say that I follow God, and turn and condemn someone I don’t know.  I cannot see their heart.  Nor can I hear the cries of their soul. I don’t know how anyone else stands before God. Even if I did, I have no right to judge.

The next question startled me: How can you love if you pass judgment so quickly?

Do you even know what it means to love?

Do you even know what unconditional love is?

And I stood there, chainsaw in hand, thinking. In a split second, I had been stilled once again by God.  It’s funny how that happens. One moment you’re running around minding your own thoughts, the next you stumble and find yourself listening to the silence after you hear God whisper in your ear.

The rest of the day, I kept on thinking about what it means to love. Unconditionally.

I know I’m not perfect.  Heck, I’m actually not that great. I’m difficult to work with. Emotional. Hard headed. I don’t like confrontation. I avoid people a lot of the time. I like the silence.

Yet, God has shown me how to Love. To smile. To fill my life with joy.

I know very little about love. Even less when it comes to societies standards of love.

But I know that God sent His son to die for me. And for everyone else as well. He calls each of us home. I have no way of knowing if a stranger on the street has committed his life to following in the footsteps of Christ. I don’t know how God is working in the lives of those around me. Each person who comes across my path could be a brother or sister in faith.

So we should love as Christ Jesus teaches us to love. Unconditionally. Without judgment. Without fear. Without hesitation.

Love as if each person in your life is Christ.  Let them know they are loved through your actions and your words. Tell them that they are beautiful, that they matter, that they are loved.

You may be surprised that it is your life that changes for the better.

Destinations, Goals, and the Journey to Get There

I have a lot of goals in this life.  I would love to teach art at the collegiate level.  I would love to publish books and stories about this crazy life.  I want to return to Africa for long-term missions.  Spend more time aboard the M/V Africa Mercy (or any ship with Mercy Ships).  Get married.  Live in a tiny home.  Travel.  Wander off the grid.

As a follower of Christ, I know that when I die, my “final” destination will be into the presence of God.  To party in heaven with all the saints, my brothers and sisters.

Between now and then, there is a lot to do.  Years ago, I heard a story about the dash between the dates.  On the gravestone, our lives will be summed up between the date in which we came into this world and the date we left it as a dash. This dash is the accumulation of our time here on this earth.  Our successes. Failures. Stories. And our journey.

In between those dates, we live. We live life to the fullest, embracing what time we have. For many of us, it can be several years. With modern technology, it is possible to live for an entire century. And each moment is a story. Each moment is a breath of life that we can pass on our knowledge, our stories, our experiences to the world in which we live and love.

I don’t have a five year, or a ten year plan. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I’ve been trying to live my life in the footsteps of God, one step at a time; how can I follow the path God has placed before my feet if I’m trying to tell God where He should lead me?

And besides, every time I make plans, I know God is up there laughing because He knows so much more than I do.

If God wants me to teach, He will guide me to that opportunity.  If He wants me to publish a book, it will happen.  If I return to missions, to Africa, to Mercy Ships, it will be because He leads my feet back there.

You see, it has nothing to do with the destination.  We will get there when we get there.  It is all about the journey.  The adventure. The path that leads us.

And it has been amazing so far! Oh, the stories I can share about how faithful, how amazing my Father, my Abba is.  If I hadn’t trusted Him, I would not have experienced the blessings that have been poured out in my travels. I would not have experienced the trials, the struggles, the pain that have made me into who I am. Nor would I have experienced the love, the redemption and forgiveness, the joy that constantly lifts me, provides me the strength to trust, to follow Him.

And honestly, I know there is only one destination. And that is closer into the presence of God. And until my last breath, I will continue to pursue, to chase, and to follow Him with everything that I am.

The Defeat of Death

Today, Christians around the world celebrate the resurrection of Christ our King, Jesus.  Resurrection Sunday.  Easter.  A time to remember when the tomb stood empty.  The man who was killed for the sins of the world, rose once again, defeating death and washing us clean through the blood spilt on the cross.  We remember because, through His sacrifice and resurrection, we can now rejoice in eternal life with the Abba, Father.

Imagine what it would be like for the men and women who walked with Jesus and watched Him die.  They did not understand His death.  They could not see what was to come.  They were scared. Afraid. Lost without their shepherd.

What would it be like to see the angel of God come down and roll away the stone, opening the tomb once again?

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.  The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
– Matthew 28:2-4

There is a power unknown to man.  A power that we could never know.  I could spend the rest of my life trying to understand it, but I could never comprehend what happened in those three days.  All I know is that our King died for us, for me.  He took our place on that cross and died for our sins.  His blood was spilt for us, washing us clean of our sins.  He was buried, wrapped in linens and placed in a borrowed tomb that was sealed and placed under guard.  And on the morning of the third day, the tomb stood empty.

We may never know what happened in those days between His death and the discovery of the empty tomb in which He was lain. My faith tells me that He descended into death, and death could not hold Him.  The sacrificial lamb, unblemished by sin, rose to be in communion with God, the Father.  Abba.

Faith tells us that His blood was shed for us.  His blood washed us clean. So that when our time on Earth is over, we too can be in communion with God.

You see, death has been defeated.

It holds no power over us.

So, this Easter, as we gorge ourselves on chocolate, sweets, and the love that overflows from family and friends, know that death has been defeated, our King has risen, and that we have been washed clean of our sins, so that we can live in the presence of God, both here in this life and in eternity to come.