Lesson learned as a missionary in the city

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I have learned many things these past five years whilst being a missionary in Chicago. And maybe one day I will write it all down, but for today I wanted to share the biggest difference of living in a city verses a suburb while being a follower of Christ.

But first, context.

Where I came from was weird

Riverside, California, was where I did most of my growing up and it’s one of those weird places that has several mega-churches. It’s also surrounded by other mega-churches all throughout Southern California. There is a substantial Christian bubble in Orange County and the Inland Empire that I didn’t realize was there until I moved out of it.

It was the norm to see Christian owned bookstores, cafes, bakeries, etc. Anytime I would walk into a Starbucks I could find someone doing a Bible study or see advertisements for Christian concerts at churches or major venues.

There was also enough space to create your own silos. You defined yourself by what church you went to, “I’m Harvest” “Well, I’m Sandals” “Oh, I’m the Grove.” And there was a hierarchy about it too. Christians felt like they were better than you if you didn’t attend their church. It didn’t even depend on doctrinal issues, just proximity, and sometimes unfortunately, cult of personality.

Where I live now is normal

Now I live in Chicago where the bubble does not exist. In fact, just the other day I got into an Uber and I saw that the driver had a cross hanging from his rear-view mirror. I literally yelled, “Are you a Christian?” He seemed a bit nervous and then confessed he was. “Oh, me too! I love Jesus too!” It is so rare to find someone else who loves Jesus in this city that I cannot help but yell with joy.

He then asked me what denomination I was, and that’s when I realized this man wasn’t from the city. In the city we cannot survive within denominational, location, and personality silos.

Do you love Jesus?

Yes.

Hello my brother or sister!

Oh, you disagree on this doctrinal issue and this one too? Well, I still love you. I will still call you family. Why? Because there’s no one else around here. It’s you and me kid.

I did learn that the Uber driver was indeed from a suburb and that our “denominations” were different, but it didn’t matter. We talked of our Savior all the way home and it was refreshing.

Regular church attendance is vital

Living in Riverside, if you missed Sunday it wasn’t that big of a deal. There was surprisingly enough weekday activities all throughout that region that led to many encounters with God. I am not encouraging lack of church attendance by any means, but I have learned there’s another very important reason why God calls us to worship Him weekly that was not apparent to me whilst living in the bubble.

It’s to remind us that we are not alone. It encourages us in our faith. I can go an entire week without meeting a Christian in Chicago and Sunday is the only day that I can breathe and worship my King without restraint. It’s that “you too?” question when you walk through the doors.

Not taking it for granted

Unlike many other cities in the world, Chicago still offers the freedom to gather together in worship. Unlike other countries where Christians have to conduct services and meetings underground, we can still meet publicly.

I recently watched Silence and I mourned with a deep sympathetic cry all throughout the film. Without giving too much away because I am not sure if you have seen it, there is a scene where a Japanese man sees the cross hanging from the priest’s neck and he falls to his knees and cries. It’s the first cross he has seen in over 15 years.

I looked at my bookcase of Christian textbooks, a picture of the Wailing Wall, Scripture art, and large and small crosses stationed neatly throughout my shelves, and I couldn’t help but cry with appreciation. I can openly worship God without any fear of death.

And then I thought about my own experience of living in Chicago. The feeling I get when I meet other Christians. The feeling I get when I walk into our rented out space on Sundays to worship with my church. The feeling I get when I meet for Wednesday night Bible study. I would have never experienced that sweet gratitude, that hopeful glimmer, that peaceful release of being around my family, of being my true self, of worshiping God in truth and Spirit together, without leaving the bubble of Riverside.

It’s undeniably a gift.

And one that I will not take for granted.

 

Don’t Feed the Monster

MonsterRecently, I had a conversation with some friends over lunch about depression. For those who don’t know me, I have become a spokesperson on depression as I’m open about my own depression. Last fall I spoke at my church’s Women’s Ministry event about depression and suicide, which for some was a radical idea. Unfortunately, there’s a stigma when it comes to being a Christian and being depressed — some think they cannot go hand-in-hand. Well, they can.

It’s important for me to say that now because if you don’t think it could happen to you, you are going to ignore it. You are going to ostracize people who do have it. You are going to judge them or yourself. You will not be real with yourself, others, and even God about what you are going through. And if you can’t bring sin into the light, it will surely keep its control over you.

So, with all of that said, during the meal I made a nonchalant statement in reference to depression, “I have learned to not feed the monster.”

Later on my friend asked me what I meant by that. And this is what I said.

Feeding the Monster

I look at depression like a monster. The more I feed it, the more it will grow and take over my life. What is this food? Well, it’s lies, negative self-talk, and hyperbolic statements. I know that I am feeding the monster when I start to use the language, “never or always”; when I tap out of my day-to-day activities; when I isolate myself; or start using phrases like “I should…” as guilt and shame are high calorie foods.

This monster will grow and grow until I become the monster.

God says we should be filled with the Holy Spirit (and not this monster). So what do I do when I notice that I am feeding the monster? I decide that it needs to be fed by the Holy Spirit instead.

Feed it with the Holy Spirit

How do I do this? I read and memorize Scripture. I pray and mediate. I worship and remember God and His faithfulness. I count my blessings and make gratitude a priority. I spend quality time with friends. I take a posture of humility and I tap back into my life.

No longer is it fed with lies, but instead it’s fed with truth. It’s fed with fruit of the Holy Spirit and it is nourishing. And instead of acting like a monster, I am kind, patient, loving, self-controlled, faithful, and gentle. Everything that the monster attempts to destroy.

How This Has Worked For Me

For the past three years I have been actively doing this and I must say when I fall into depression I don’t stay there that long.  I recognize my triggers, and instead, go to God for help.

Because in the end that’s what I have learned the most. Depression sucks, but I don’t let it go to waste. I use it to be a catalyst to strengthen my relationship with God. It reminds me that I can’t do it on my own and that it’s okay! I have a Father who loves me, who pursues me, who cares for me, who heals me, and who reminds me that I am not alone.

The Monster may always be there. It may be a thorn that is never taken away and I have learned to accept it because I am no longer afraid of it. It’s not a monster that stirs up fear, but rather pity. It only knows what I give it. And if I give it the Holy Spirit instead of my sin, God can redeem it.

*I apologize to all spiders for using you as an example of a monster, but let’s be real, you are one. 

Saturday Sippin’ on Tea…

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It’s Saturday evening and I am drinking some Moroccan Mint Tea, smelling some Eucalyptus leaves, and listening to Housefires.

The evening started with reading some more chapters in Taylor Lyall’s book, Humble Walk: Lessons from a Simple Man Following Jesuswhile I waited for my water to boil for my mint tea. And in that time, the Holy Spirit gave me the biggest, deepest hug I’ve had in awhile. I don’t know how to explain it exactly. It’s like all of my barriers and walls I’ve built around me (that I didn’t know I had) just fell and He swept me up and told me that He loved me. It was vulnerable. It was raw. It brought me tears. And then I just started singing to God. It started with “Good Good Father” from Housefires and then it just moved into my own words of praise and worship.

I am not sure if my landlord below heard me, and I do apologize if he did because it wasn’t necessarily pretty to human’s ears. It had a lot of broken words, sobs, and sounds I didn’t know I could make, but I know it was beautiful to my Father.

Sometimes I am so desperate for God and other times I am not. I wish I were more desperate for Him. I wish I actively sought out those healing hugs. Instead, I spend so much of my time rejecting Him either because I don’t feel like I am worthy or because I think I don’t need Him — both are so incredibly wrong and damaging. I am thankful for the moments when God pushes my sin out of the way and shows me, loudly and plainly, the depth and width of His love. It’s so powerful. It’s so real. It’s so… beautiful.

I write this post so that you would be encouraged. You have a God who is desperately pursuing you; who loves you despite of your sin and rejection of Him. He loves you. And He won’t stop loving you. Embrace His love tonight.

Cheers.

Looking for a Roommate Sucks

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It’s strange looking for a roommate. I’ve been blessed in all of my years of living on my own to move into a home instead of trying to have someone move in with me.  I was usually the one in the tight spot of having nowhere to go. And now that I have a place and I am trying to find someone, I realize how much this side of things suck.

It’s good though. It’s definitely reinforces what I know to be true: God is in control. His Will not mine. He will provide. And it may be frustrating and tough, but it’s how I react, how I submit, that will determine the success of this temporary season.

I’ll be honest, my brain and heart are in a state of flux. I have gone hours where I am okay, completely trusting God, and then I have a moment that throws me and I have a good five-minutes of just fear and worry.

Thoughts have ranged from:

  • “What if? What if I can’t find someone?”
  • “I don’t want to be desperate and say yes to the first person because I need to trust in God’s timing.”
  • “God, can you get rid of this student loan so that I can just live on my own?”
  • “God, I will be patient. I will wait. Bring someone.”
  • “Let me do all of the things to find the roommate.”
  • “Well, looks like I am living on the streets. Here, let me sell my books.”
  • “I need help.”
  • “I don’t need help.”
  • “I am not alone.”
  • “I feel so alone in this.”

Suffice it to say, I am learning to trust God in this. I am not all the way there yet.

He has reminded me of what He has brought me out of and how He has provided for me.

And I also keep repeating Philippians 4:6-7:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

God will get me through this and it may not look how I envisioned either. Who knows what will happen by May 15.

If you’re reading this, please pray for me.

The Turning Point

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In 1 Samuel 8 a significant turning point happens to Israel that changes the trajectory of their nation. They rejected the judgeship –something that set them apart and was something that made them completely subject to God’s rule, reign, and authority — for kingship. They wanted a king so that “we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:20).

I had to admit to God tonight that this chapter in the Bible causes so much tension inside of me. I mean this is it — we are going down the pathway of King David and King Solomon, two monarchs that I love to read and learn about. God did so many awesome things through their kingship. And Jesus came through the line of David! It’s exciting.

And yet, this is the point when Israel rejects God and He concedes. He warns them of the corruption and the frailty of man, the consequential slavery that they are putting themselves back into, and yet they still choose to be like others. It’s painful.

How many times have I rejected God’s reign in my life? How many times have I decided either that the government in my own country is more important than Jesus, my King? How many times have I made myself the monarch?

It’s a high number.

I had to confess to God (and more to myself) where I have been rejecting His authority in my life. And it’s embarrassing and frustrating because I love God … a lot. I love Him more than anything else in this world — except for myself. I still love myself more. I still love my dreams more.

I want to love God more. I do. I end all of my prayers asking God to teach me how to love Him; to grow my heart; to align my will to His; and to love others as He loves others. I need my heart to grow and strengthen.

After my reading and prayer tonight, I started singing “Desert Soul” by Rend Collective. I didn’t know all of the words all that well except for the beginning:

I love you Lord, but I want to love you more

I need you God, but I want to need you more

So I decided to run to YouTube and play it loud and proud in my room and dance around and sing and declare it to God. If you have the time, listen to it (I purposefully chose the video with the lyrics on it).

This is my prayer.

A Weary World Rejoices

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I’ve been listening to a lot of Christmas music as of late (because it’s awesome!) and I realized how much I have needed to hear the words and truth these songs proclaim.

In one of my favorite songs, “O Holy Night” we sing that Jesus’s birth was a “thrill of hope” for the “weary world.”

We are a weary world indeed.

2016 was a rotten year. Universally, I think we can all acknowledge that this year was painful in so many spheres and places. I don’t think I have had my heart broken by so much evil and pain on a consistent basis as it has in 2016.

Yet, we have hope. And we are reminded of this hope every Christmas when we celebrate Christ’s birth — a birth that declared God’s faithfulness, goodness, and grace. Christ came as the Light of the World, the Prince of Peace, the Messiah.. He came.

And it’s not only something we remember but it’s also something we anticipate as Jesus Christ will return.

So yes, we are weary. Yes, we mourn. Yes we feel all the feels. But it’s not the end. It’s not all that we have. We have a Savior. We have a promise from God who keeps His promises and He says, “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,” (Revelation 21:4).

Thank you, Lord. Thank you.

Take Root Where God Plants You

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Recently I had a conversation with someone who was thinking about moving to a new state. I told him that if he moves he should stay there at least 18 months. Why? Well, as someone who has spent four years in a new city I’ve learned that it’s important to take root where God plants you.

Growth Takes Time

The first year or so you’re so busy looking back on what you had and what you miss. You’re continually playing the compare game. Well, where I came from we had access to cheap and delicious avocados. (Okay, maybe I am still not over that one.)

You’re also experiencing a culture shock and when you are in shock you gravitate to what is most comfortable. It’s foreign and confusing. You don’t know the rules, the good places for tacos, the streets to avoid, or how to even get to the grocery store!

You’re also looking forward – what you want, what could be better. Well, if I move to this state or this city my life could be better. The grass is greener on the other side, sort of thing. Well folks, water your own lawn.

Taking Root Helps You Endure

It was hard moving to Chicago to help start a church. I didn’t have any friends. I spent my life in Southern California building relationships. As an introvert it’s also hard for me to make friends. I like to hang out at home and create things, but I also adore deep friendships and conversations with other humans. That stuff takes time. I had to start again.

The past four years I have been through some trials. I could have easily returned back to California but I was stubborn and resilient in my pursuit to take root and it paid off. I broke a foot, gone through some major depression, etc., and through it all I was stable and grounded in my new home.

I also knew that God planted me in Chicago and I didn’t want my fear to take control. The fear of missing out in the lives I had left (babies, weddings, baptisms, etc.); the fear of not being known or understood in a new city; the fear of being alone forever; the fear of not having a security net to catch me if I fell; and the fear of falling in love with a new place and forgetting where I came from.

Remember Why You Moved

So I focused on God and not on the fear. I focused on God’s promises and truth. I focused on the why. Why did I move to Chicago? I also replaced the focus of it being about me and my life and where I wanted to live and remembered what I told God five years ago, God send me where you want me to go. My life is yours. I meant it then and I mean it now. I hold onto that declaration when I am stressed and looking back and it gently turns my head to the present.

Take Root

As a plant, you don’t have a choice where you are planted. You just take root. Growth takes time and it can be painful. Yet, when you bear fruit it is so sweet and you realize it was actually worth it. It made sense. The soil, the climate –  everything was made for you to grow.

So, if you are thinking about moving, my advice is to pray and then take root. Give yourself at least 18 months before you move to the next place. Be patient with this new life that is forming, endure during the storms, and remember why you’re there. Let’s not be a generation of rootless wanderers, but let’s follow where God leads.

 

A Saturday of Grace

14567380_10154587151626926_6997700138693989476_oLast Saturday I had the honor of teaching on Grace for Self at Kindred, a Real Church Chicago Women’s Ministry. And I truly mean it was an honor.

This post is not a rehash of what I taught (that may come later). It’s to be a declaration of God’s grace and His goodness.

Saturday was a perfect example of God’s Redeeming Providence. I was able to take all of the years of depression and suicide and share about them not as a story of shame or guilt, but rather as signposts of God’s goodness and grace. And I was able to take those signposts and show the way to grace for others.

I had so many women come up to me afterward to tell me their own stories, to share how my story has impacted them, and how my story has encouraged them. That right there makes my history with depression worth it. If my pain can save another life or encourage one in their fight, then it would have been worth it.

I love working with my Father. I love teaching with the Holy Spirit. I love pointing to Jesus in everything I do. I am incredibly grateful to live in a place and time that I can do this. I know not all have this freedom and I will not take it for granted.

Caring for the Poor: A Radical Concept

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My church is going through the Letter to the Romans, which I have been writing about on my church’s website (see blog), so anything to do with Roman history has really got my eye, and in this case, my ear.

I am a member of Audible and they have Channels that lets you listen to snippets of TED, The Great Courses, and other audio. It’s super awesome! So, this morning I was listening to a Great Course on Rome titled “Being a Poor Roman.”

I highly recommend listening to it as it gives context to what Christians were experiencing at the time of Paul’s letter.

Some takeaways

I never realized the extent to which caring for the poor was so counter-cultural. I knew Jesus was a radical and a “punk” as my friend Nick Love says, but the idea of social conscience was not something that came into society until the 19th century (according to the professor). Yet, it has always been the responsibility of followers of Christ.

The lecturer is not teaching this class from a Christian perspective; in fact, he never mentions them. He sheds Emperor Nero into an okay light, which if you know your history, he treated followers of Christ horribly. Yet this lecture offers insight into the church makeup that Paul was interacting with and the context in which they were living in.

Ultimately it demonstrates how the act of caring for the poor is in itself a radical, holy concept.

So, I’ve been depressed…

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Photo Credit: Jeremy Bishop

Sometimes you don’t know how deep you are in until you are out. It’s like climbing out of a hole diagonally, you’re just moving toward some end, and then when you get out, you realize you’ve been six feet deep.

That’s how the past seven months have felt for me.

Beginning from December and leading up to last week, I’ve been in a depression. It’s not a surprise; my depression ebbs and flows. And I knew I was in one, but I didn’t realize its extent until now – now that I am out.

This depression has felt like walking under water. It’s like pushing your body toward the goal but having this force that is pushing back on you. It’s barely breathing at times. It’s falling over and slowly getting back up. And it’s dark.

Yet there were moments of peace. Moments in which the natural currents pushed me forward and the sun’s rays would break through …but I was still under water.

Well, I am finally above! I am not on land quite yet, and that’s okay! I am happy to ride these waves with God, taking the hits as they come, but I can finally breathe – I can finally feel like I am going somewhere.

This Week: A Microcosm

This week I had been getting up early to study Scripture, pray, exercise, and then you know, work. I found myself acting like Ms. Grumperson because I had to get up before the sun was out, but I continued on because I knew God was working on discipline with me.

Well, Thursday I slept through my alarm waking up at 8 am! I didn’t get to read, pray, or exercise. I just went to work. And even the app I’ve been using to record my food intake crashed on me. It was like Thursday was this weird blip and a reminder of where I was a month ago. I hated it. I kept saying to God all day, “Wow. I need you so much. I need to praise you, study, and practice disciplines. I am not fully me without you.”

I realized then that the last seven months I was truly experiencing a depression.

How to get out of a depression

You may be asking, Okay, so if I just pray, study, and exercise I won’t be depressed, right?

No.

Wait, what? Why?

Because I did study, pray, and exercise in the last seven months and I was still depressed.

This is bogus!

(Do people still say bogus?) Anyways… I want to say that it’s not a formula. If it were, we would be in control of our sanctification and we wouldn’t need God. And I think that’s where we get confused as Christians. We think if we pray more, do more, then our hearts will change. They won’t. Not without the Holy Spirit. We are renewed, transformed, and sanctified by God and God only.

So why was I depressed?

I believe that God lets you experience hard things to reveal your heart and your need for Him.

God uses depression differently for people. If you are going through a depression, I don’t know why. It’s something to ask God. But I can share from my own experience that my depression was something necessary for me to grow deeper and stronger in my faith. I needed to be under the water, pushing forward. I needed to fight. I needed to realize how deeply I value my God.